Miami edges Pittsburgh 67-63, keeps NCAA hopes alive
PITTSBURGH (AP) Sheldon McClellan spent most of Wednesday afternoon trying to get his troublesome groin to loosen up. At one point, Miami's leading scorer wasn't even sure he would be able to play against Pittsburgh.
For a half, it looked like sitting out wouldn't have been a bad idea. McClellan missed six of his first seven shots and watched the Hurricanes fall behind in a de facto NCAA Tournament elimination game. Earlier in the year McClellan might have decided to stop shooting altogether. Not anymore.
''I knew I had to make shots down the stretch and stay aggressive for my team,'' McClellan said.
Done. And then some. McClellan scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half - including a pair of jumpers late after the Panthers had drawn within a basket - as Miami held on for a 67-63 win to keep its slim hopes of an at-large berth to the tournament alive.
''I feel like it was a do or die game,'' McClellan said. ''That's how we entered the contest.''
That's how the Hurricanes (19-11, 9-8) left it too. Miami hardly looked like a team on its last legs, even with second-leading scorer Angel Rodriguez sitting on the bench in a gray sweatsuit while recovering from a wrist injury suffered against Florida State on Feb. 25.
The Hurricanes compensated by relying on Davon Reed early and McClellan late. While hardly in the clear, the outlook is certainly better than it was following a loss to North Carolina over the weekend.
''It does move us closer,'' coach Jim Larranaga said. ''We needed another good road victory. We still have some work to do. This certainly helps.''
And it certainly hurts the Panthers (19-12, 8-9). Michael Young led Pitt with 22 points and seven rebounds and Jamel Artis scored 14 but missed a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left that would have tied the game. The Panthers have lost two straight and will likely need to make a deep run in next week's ACC tournament to have any hopes of going to the NCAAs for the 11th time in coach Jamie Dixon's 12 seasons.
''We never quite got control of the game,'' Dixon said. ''I thought defensively we're just not where we need to be. We've been stressing it, working on it trying to get better and at the end of the day they kept beating us off the dribble.''
The Hurricanes made 15 of 18 free throws compared to just 7 of 8 for Pitt. McClellan was 7 of 8 at the line by himself, most of them coming after daring forays into the paint.
Reed was brilliant at times. He hit his first seven shots as the Panthers struggled to put a hand in his face. Eventually McClellan joined him.
The Panthers responded with their usual mix of Young and Artis but little else. Pitt overcame an early seven-point deficit to take a 33-29 lead at the break. The Panthers were 12-0 when leading at halftime but struggled to generate much offense in the second half outside of whatever Young could get around the basket.
The Hurricanes went ahead for good on a tip-in by Tonye Jekiri with 6:59 to go and Pitt simply could not catch up.
Artis made a 3-pointer to pull Pitt within 57-56 with 2:40 to play but McClellan responded with a 3-pointer from right in front of the Miami bench. Young dropped in a hook shot to make it 60-58 but McClellan hit a long two-pointer from the left corner and Pitt would get no closer.
Miami: The Hurricanes outrebounded Pitt 33-30 and turned it over just seven times. ... Jekiri finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Pitt: The seniors went out meekly in their final home game. Cam Wright had 11 points, five assists and three rebounds. Forward Aron Phillips-Nwankwo had two rebounds. Center Derrick Randall made his fifth start of the season, was whistled for a foul 19 seconds into the game and went scoreless in two minutes.
Larranaga has been telling his players all season the best way to get to the basket is to press forward instead of slashing left or right. He showed the Hurricanes video of Julius Erving and Kevin Durant and the way they would take one dribble and get to the bucket. Finally it seems the message is sinking in.
''You don't have to fake,'' Larranaga said. ''The move is having more speed and quickness than the guy that's guarding you.''
Miami plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Pitt plays at Florida State on Saturday.