Pitt rallies in final seconds of regulation en route to OT win at Clemson

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 6:51 p.m.

CLEMSON, S.C. — In an inaugural ACC season defined by buzzer beaters and last-minute losses, it was only natural Pitt's regular-season finale would come down to the final shot.

Facing a must-win situation to boost its NCAA Tournament resume, Pitt scored five points in the final 2.4 seconds Saturday as Lamar Patterson made a 3-pointer and Josh Newkirk sank an 8-footer at the buzzer to tie Clemson and send the game into overtime.

The Panthers pulled off an improbable comeback for an 83-78 overtime victory, sending the sellout crowd of 10,000 at Littlejohn Coliseum home in disbelief.

“That's the ball we've been looking for all year,” Patterson said of Newkirk's tying shot. “It's been happening against us. You've always got to keep playing until the horn sounds. We did that and got the ‘W.' ”

The victory might have been enough for Pitt (23-8, 11-7) to receive an NCAA at-large berth after slipping to bubble status with a loss to N.C. State on Monday. The Panthers, predicted to finish sixth in a preseason media poll, clinched the No. 5 seed in the ACC Tournament. Pitt will play the winner of the game between the Nos. 12-13 seeds at 2 p.m. Thursday at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

It was a welcome ending to a regular season that saw Pitt lose in the last seconds to Cincinnati, Syracuse and Virginia.

“I feel like the basketball gods owed us one,” said Patterson, a fifth-year senior who tied his career high with 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting, making five 3-pointers and 5 of 5 free throws.

James Robinson missed a 3-pointer, but Mike Young hustled after the ball, and it went out of bounds off Clemson with six seconds left. The Panthers ran an inbounds play for Patterson, who came off a screen to sink a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left cut it to 67-65.

After a Pitt timeout, the Panthers switched their full-court press from a trap to fronting Clemson's players to deny Damarcus Harrison's inbounds pass, which Patterson tipped off K.J. McDaniels' leg and into the hands of the 6-foot-1 Newkirk.

Newkirk hesitated, then sank a short jumper as the final horn sounded. After a lengthy review, officials determined the shot left his hand before time expired.

“It was probably the longest three or four minutes of my life,” said Newkirk, who finished with four points. “For when it happened and how it happened, it was probably one of the biggest shots of my life.”

Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who said he didn't like the look in his players' eyes during that time, hit a dry-erase board with his fist in the huddle in an attempt to snap the Tigers out of their spell.

“Obviously,” Brownell said, “it's a huge kick in the gut.”

It was quite the reversal from their first meeting, when Pitt beat Clemson, 76-43, on Jan. 21 at Petersen Events Center. The 33-point win tied the opener against Savannah State for Pitt's largest margin of victory this season. Clemson shot 32 percent from the field, including 21.1 percent from 3-point range, in that game.

This time, Clemson (19-11, 10-8) made nine of its first 12 shots from the field, including 4 of 6 3-pointers, and used a 16-2 run to turn a 17-13 deficit into a 29-19 lead on Austin Ajukwa's steal and breakaway dunk. The Tigers led by as many as 11 with 4:59 left in the first half.

Pitt rallied back, as Patterson drained a 3-pointer and scored on another driving layup to tie the game at 56-56 with 7:01 remaining. After Jordan Roper's weak-side dunk lifted Clemson's lead to four, two free throws by Newkirk and a layup by Patterson to tie it, 60-60, at 3:46.

McDaniels, however, responded with a tomahawk dunk to give Clemson the lead again at 62-60. Pitt missed several chances to tie it — a Cameron Wright pick-and-roll pass to Talib Zanna sailed out of bounds, and Patterson missed a 15-footer and a 3-pointer — before the Tigers stretched their lead.

McDaniels, who led Clemson with 24 points, followed a Harrison 3-point air ball for a rebound and scored a turnaround jumper from the baseline for a 64-60 lead with 1:17 remaining. That set up the final heroics by Patterson and Newkirk.

The Panthers outscored Clemson, 16-11, in the extra period to improve to 4-0 in overtime, also winning at Miami and Notre Dame and at home against Virginia Tech.

“When we got into overtime, I said, ‘We've got them right where we wanted them,' ” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I never had any doubt in my mind. I spent the whole time (officials reviewed the shot) coaching our team and preparing for the overtime.”

Patterson opened overtime with a 3-pointer to give the Panthers their first lead since the first half. Wright (16 points) added a layup to stretch it to five, and the Panthers were up seven after a layup by Zanna, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Clemson's Rod Hall hit a 3-pointer, made two free throws and scored off a steal to cut it 81-78 with 18.4 seconds left. But the Tigers got no closer, as Wright sank two free throws for the finishing touches.

“It's amazing,” Wright said. “It shows what togetherness is. We had a lot of heartbreaking games, and for this to finally happen for us, it shows there's some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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