Pitt finds a way to win season opener over ACC foe Florida State
Allison Murphy wasn’t especially pleased when her son Ryan, who grew up in Calabasas, Calif., decided to transfer to Pitt.
“My mom is going to hate me for saying this,” Pitt’s junior guard said Wednesday night. “But no part of her wanted me to go to the East Coast. She loves L.A.”
Mom may learn to love Pittsburgh, too, after she watched her son help lead Pitt to a 63-61 victory against Florida State in the Panthers’ opener at Petersen Events Center.
At least she knows where Murphy hangs out nights.
Murphy, Xavier Johnson and Terrell Brown each scored 13 points, each stepping up at different, crucial moments to make big plays.
None of it happened by accident. Especially in regards to Murphy, who spends so much time in the Pete, he probably should pay rent.
“Every night I come back here around 7 to 10 o’clock,” he said after the game, “and I make anywhere from 500 to 700 shots.
“Catch and shoot, off the dribble, free throws, everything.
“In the morning I work out with (assistant) coach (Milan) Brown and then we have practice. I’m in here all day.”
It showed against the Seminoles.
When Pitt was struggling in the first half on its way to a 24 percent shooting effort from the field, Murphy hit two 3-pointers to ignite the crowd of 9,016 and kick-start the Pitt offense.
In the second half, he hit another 3-pointer, all four of his foul shots and grabbed an important defensive rebound with 21 seconds left to preserve a one-point lead.
“He can really shoot,” coach Jeff Capel said of the junior college transfer who lived in five states and attended two colleges before choosing Pitt over Gonzaga and Washington State. “He’s very confident. He knows how to play and he has a passion for playing.”
Murphy didn’t start, but he played 31 minutes as Capel stuck with the same five players – Johnson, Brown, Murphy, Trey McGowens and freshman Justin Champagnie – over the final 11 minutes, 38 seconds of the game.
“I coach on rhythm,” Capel said. “I don’t have any set patterns, I thought they had a good thing going and I wanted to ride with them.”
Each player contributed in different ways.
With Pitt down by one and 5:42 left, McGowens, a 6-foot-4 guard, grabbed a defensive rebound – one of his team-high seven – went down court and made two free throws.
Later, Champagnie hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt a 54-52 lead. Johnson and Brown made two late 2-pointers that broke ties at 54 and 56.
None was more dramatic than Brown’s lay-in with two minutes left.
He said he wanted to dunk, but he was fouled. The basketball rested on the rim for a few seconds, rolled around it and, finally, fell through the cords. Brown made the foul shot to give Pitt a three-point lead it never relinquished.
“I looked at it and said, `You better go in,’ ” Brown said. “You tell it to go in, she goes in.”
Capel was pleased to record the victory in what he called an “ugly” game, something to be expected in an opener against a formidable opponent that was in the Sweet 16 last year.
“I was really proud that we fought,” he said. “And we found a way to win. I thought we showed a lot of toughness, we showed a lot of togetherness.”
Pitt had more 3-pointers (nine) than 2-pointers (seven) and, overall, shot only 31.4 percent from the field. But the Panthers out-rebounded a bigger Florida State team, 37-35, and fouled out three of its players. Pitt also was efficient and productive from the foul line (22 of 31).
Capel said Brown, who didn’t start, played his best game in two years, but the junior center has no intention to rest on those words, especially with 30 games ahead of him.
“It’s great to celebrate tonight,” he said. “After tonight, (Thursday) we have practice at 1. It means nothing.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .