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Inside The Panthers

Pitt vs Miami Takeaways: Comeback Started with Defense

By Stephen Thompson,


The Pitt Panthers survived cold offensive stretches by playing some of their best defense of the year.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pitt Panthers appeared dead in the water. Down eight with 2:22 to play, there was no reason this team, which had been sloppy and uninspiring all afternoon, had a prayer of pulling out a win. They did, anyway.

The energy and enthusiasm this group of Panthers has brought back to the program reached a climax as they came roaring back in the final minutes to top No. 20 Miami and win their third game of the year against a ranked opponent.

Capitalizing on Momentum

The lead-up to this Miami game is comparable to the weeks and games leading up to the Clemson game from earlier this year. The Panthers had earned some good wins and entered that weekend in a position to wrestle sole possession of first place in the ACC away from the Tigers. A fantastic crowd was at their back but Pitt failed to capitalize and lost by one to a team still leading the conference standings.

This time, the Panthers rewarded a raucous home crowd with a thrilling and crucial win. They earned their second win in a row and fourth in the last five tries by rallying from an eight-point deficit inside the final 2:22 to the very audible delight of the fans who came out in droves to watch them play.

The win will have some tangible effects on Pitt's postseason resume but more importantly, it came in front of a packed house built painstakingly through a season of alternating steps forward and backward. There are fans who will remember that comeback, the roar of the crowd and the feeling of community that comes from collective accomplishment.

“We’re grateful," head coach Jeff Capel said of the atmosphere. I think people feel a connection with this group of guys and with this team and we’re just grateful."

Surviving Sloppiness with Serenity

Make no mistake - the road to this win was uneven and Pitt stole this game from Miami. The Panthers did not play particularly well for most of the afternoon and still walked away as victors over a ranked opponent for the third time this season. Their turnovers and missed layups sunk the Panthers into a deep hole, but the experienced makeup of this group allowed them to play within themselves and chip away.

Down 11 with 12 minutes to play, Jamarius Burton cut into the deficit with a 3-pointer. Then down eight, consecutive triples from leading scorers Blake Hinson and Greg Elliot helped cut it to just four. Pitt continued to make just enough plays to hang around and pounced at the right moment with an 11-0 run over the final 2:03 that secured the victory.

This is not a one-off, but a pattern for the Panthers, who have shown time and time again that their wealth of games played and minutes logged are more than just fun facts for game notes and broadcasts - they are valuable resources for a team that plays in tight games regularly. It allows them to avoid panic when the road gets tough and do what is necessary in any given moment.

"One of the things we preached all year - and it really started when we lost those three games earlier in the year - is just stay present," Capel said. "Don’t worry about the past, don’t worry about the future, just concentrate on right now and try to control what we can control and we’ve shown that in games.”

Greg Elliot Redemption Arc

That calm that Capel referenced was best exemplified by the sequence Greg Elliot manufactured inside the final seven seconds of the game.

Pitt had just taken a one-point lead with 25.4 seconds left after Hinson tipped back the eighth and ninth points of their 11-0 closing run. Isaiah Wong went one-on-one with Jamarius Burton and lost, turning the ball back over to the Panthers and committing a foul. Elliot was the inbounder on the ensuing play and needed to simply get the ball to one of his teammates so Miami could foul and Pitt could attempt to ice the game at the free throw line. Instead, his pass to Burton hit the baseline and Miami got one more shot at a game-winning play.

Elliot, a graduate transfer with 135 career games under his belt, lived Capel's mission of staying present and stood tall to defend on the final possession, cause a turnover, draw a foul and make both of his free throws to put Pitt up by three with 2.4 seconds to play.

"The last play, it’s 7.1 seconds, we have the ball, we turn it over and again we didn’t get deflated," Capel said. "The guy that turned it over got the steal, got fouled, made two free throws to make it a three-point game. That’s who we’ve been all year and I hope we can continue to be like that."

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