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MBB Drops ACC Opener to Pittsburgh

by Alex Schwartz

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Down five scholarship players, the University of Miami men’s basketball team, fell to Pittsburgh, 70-55, Wednesday night at the Watsco Center to begin ACC play.

Miami (3-2, 0-1 ACC) opened the game with just seven healthy scholarship players, yet still managed to take a second-half lead before the Panthers closed the contest in strong fashion for the win. Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong paced the Hurricanes with a game-high 21 points.

“I thought Pittsburgh did a good job. They got into some early foul trouble, but they had some guys come in off the bench and really help them,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “They’re a very good rebounding team. They outrebounded us, 43-29. That’s always an issue when a team is able to get on the glass that way. Part of it, though, is we’re missing so many shots. We’re not shooting the ball well at all.”

Both teams had sluggish offensive showings in a back-and-forth first half that saw each team go on a late 7-0 run. The Hurricanes scored nine of the final 11 points of the frame to cut their deficit to two, 27-25, at the intermission.

Miami turned in a strong defensive showing in the opening 20 minutes, including drawing a charge on Pittsburgh (5-1, 1-0 ACC) sophomore forward Justin Champagnie, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, just 3:55 into the game that gave him two fouls and sent him to the bench the rest of the half.

However, the Hurricanes shot 7-of-24 (29.2 percent) from the floor, 0-of-8 from 3-point range and 11-of-20 (55.0 percent) from the stripe before the break.

After the Panthers extended their lead to 34-27 to begin the second half, Miami scored eight points in 70 seconds to go in front, 35-34, with 15:45 left, its first lead since the score was 4-2. The spurt started with back-to-back 3-pointers, the team’s first long-range makes of the game.

Pittsburgh, however, countered with a 19-2 run to go in front, 53-37, with 9:14 to go. During that burst, Wong went out briefly with cramps and freshman forward Matt Cross, who did not return, departed with a left leg injury.

The shorthanded Hurricanes were unable to claw their way back and dropped a home game to the Panthers for the first time since Feb. 15, 2014, the teams’ first meeting as ACC foes.

“Well, the moment Isaiah went out, we lost the one guy that was putting pressure on them and scoring,” Larrañaga said. “He ends up with 21 points; he probably could’ve had 25 or 30 had he stayed in there. But once he went down, we completely became unglued. Someone had to step up and no one was able to do it.”

Wong’s season-high point total came on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, a 3-of-5 clip from deep and a 6-of-9 mark at the line. The three made 3-pointers set a new career high for the Piscataway, N.J., native.

Sophomore forward Anthony Walker, in the first start of his career, logged his first collegiate double-double, notching 12 points and career-high 10 rebounds, the latter number leading all players. He also blocked two shots in a career-best 35 minutes.

Redshirt sophomore guard Ithiel Horton led the Panthers with 18 points, while junior guard/forward Au’Diese Toney scored 15. Miami limited Champagnie, who came in as the reigning ACC Player of the Week after back-to-back 20-20 performances, to 10 points and nine boards.

Despite posting the same number of made free throws as Pittsburgh had attempts, Miami finished plus-five from the line after shooting 16-of-31 (51.6 percent) compared to the Panthers’ 11-of-16 (68.8 percent) clip.

Up next for the Hurricanes is their non-conference finale, a matchup with Jacksonville Saturday at the 3:30 p.m. at the Watsco Center, televised live on RSN.

To keep up with the University of Miami men’s basketball team on social media, follow @CanesHoops on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The 2020-21 Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball season is presented by First National Bank.

MIAMI HURRICANES POSTGAME NOTES
– The Hurricanes moved to 23-20 all-time against Pittsburgh, including 14-8 at home and 7-3 in Larrañaga’s tenure.
– The Hurricanes are now 6-11 all-time in ACC openers, including 4-6 at home and 4-6 under Larrañaga.
– Miami dropped to 11-6 in ACC home openers, including 5-5 in Larrañaga’s tenure.
– Larrañaga, who entered the game with the 10th-most victories of any active Division I coach, is now 663-449 in 37 years as a head coach, including 193-115 in 10 seasons at Miami.
For the first time this season, Miami used a starting lineup of Walker, Wong, sophomore guard Harlond Beverly, redshirt senior center Nysier Brooks and senior guard Elijah Olaniyi.
– Wednesday marked not only the first start and appearance as a Hurricane for Olaniyi, who was granted eligibility one hour before tip-off following a blanket NCAA waiver for all four-year transfers.
– Senior guard Chris Lykes (left ankle), redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty (right hamstring), redshirt senior center Rodney Miller Jr. (left groin), freshman guard Earl Timberlake (right ankle) and redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg (left foot) all missed the game due to injury.
– Cross missed the final 12:09 of action after going down with a left leg injury on fast-break layup attempt.
– Miami missed nine of its first 15 free-throw attempts through the first 18 minutes, before making all five of its attempts in the final two minutes of the opening half.
– The Panthers committed 15 fouls in the first half, while Miami logged just seven.
– Beverly surpassed both 750 minutes played and 50 made free throws at Miami, as well as reached 100 made field goals.
– Brooks reached 100 blocked shots as collegian.
– Wong moved past 250 field-goal attempts and 100 free-throw attempts in his career.
– Wong scored in double figures for the 15th time, including the fifth this season, and scored 20-plus points for the sixth time, including the third this season.
– Olaniyi surpassed four made field goals as a collegian.
– Walker, who set a career high with eight free-throw attempts, scored in double figures for the third time in his career and the second game in a row.
– Redshirt junior forward Deng Gak eclipsed 250 minutes played as a Hurricane.