CLEMSON, S.C. — Pitt has been on the wrong end of several last-second miracles this season. Senior Lamar Patterson believed that the basketball gods owed the Panthers one.
And that debt was certainly collected Saturday as the Panthers got a perfect bounce, a perfect roll and a perfect shot at the regulation buzzer by Josh Newkirk to tie the score against Clemson, then rolled to an amazing, odds-defying, 83-78 ACC win in overtime before a stunned crowd of 10,000 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Panthers, who trailed from about halfway through the first half and fell behind by as many as 11 points, battled their way back and trailed by five points — 67-62 — with 13 seconds to play in regulation after two free throws by Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame.
Things looked even bleaker when James Robinson’s 3-pointer with six seconds to play was errant, but Pitt got new life when the ball was knocked out of bounds off of Clemson.
Patterson made a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds to play off the inbounds play and that pulled the Panthers to within 67-65. That’s when Patterson said a little divine intervention in Pitt’s favor took place.
Damarcus Harrison attempted to inbound the ball to Clemson standout KJ McDaniels but Patterson and Talib Zanna had him trapped. Patterson was able to get his hand on the ball and tip it and it bounced down to McDaniels leg and rolled across the floor right to Newkirk, who was about 10 feet from the basket.
Newkirk picked it up and did a little double pump before he shot it a hair before the buzzer. It went in to tie the score and send it into overtime.
“I was just in the right place at the right time and the ball happened to be in my hands,” said Newkirk with a grin. “There were only two seconds left so I knew I had to shoot it and it went in. [I double-clutched it] because I wanted to make sure it was good.”
The ball left his hand a little later than it should have as a result of that double clutch, however, and so the officials, who called the basket good on the court, had to review it. After a lengthy review they concluded that Newkirk got the shot off before the clock expired.
“Given the way we have lost games, we always know — when the game sounds, that is when the game is actually over and not a split second before,” Patterson said. “And this time we knew it was our chance to break someone else’s heart. Coach [Jamie Dixon] drew up a good play for me to hit the 3-pointer and then it was defend and try to get a steal like our life depended on it.
“Then Josh picked it up and hit the shot and I said to myself, ‘That is good, there is no way they can overturn it, the basketball gods, they owe us one.’ I knew it, I just knew it was good so I was just trying to get the guys amped up for overtime.
“We’re undefeated in overtime this year and when we came out we threw the first punch and I knew we were good.”
McDaniels said of Newkirk’s shot: “I knew it was a basket as soon as he shot it because I was right under the goal. It was a tough shot, he shot it with confidence and made it so it was a big shot for him.”
The Panthers were given new life and they went out in the overtime and jumped on a stunned Tigers team.
Pitt scored the first seven points of overtime and never looked back and they cruised to a win and a 4-0 record in overtime games this season.
“They were up 11 but I still felt good about where we were at because they had shot the ball so well,” Dixon said. “I thought it was a well-played game between two good teams at the end of the year. I told them when we got into overtime, ‘We got them right where we want them,’ because we were 3-0, now 4-0, in overtime.
“And that says a lot about our kids that we are 4-0 in overtime, they are in close games, they are battling and finding ways to win.”
The victory was a huge one for the Panthers (23-8, 11-7), who won the overtime period, 16-11, clinching fifth place in the ACC. They will be the fifth seed in the ACC tournament next week in Greensboro, N.C.
Pitt will next play at 2 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the No. 12 vs. No. 13 game that will take place a day earlier.
And perhaps more important, the Panthers likely have done enough to shore up their spot in the NCAA tournament as this was considered a make-or-break kind of game for them.
That’s why the celebration in the locker room after the game was so unbelievably loud and rowdy. There was a huge sigh of relief as they had struggled down the stretch and were on the verge of playing their way out of the NCAA tournament.
“Considering what we had to overcome to win and what was at stake, yeah this was a big one,” said Patterson, who tied a career high with 30 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“This was a good way for us to get some momentum for the ACC tournament next week.”
Clemson (19-11, 10-8) fell into sixth place and actually could finish in seventh if Florida State (18-11, 9-8) beats Syracuse today.
Cameron Wright had a huge game for Pitt, which outrebounded the Tigers, 35-28. He had 16 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Talib Zanna added 10 points and 10 rebounds. McDaniels had 24 points to lead Clemson.
Paul Zeise: pzeise@Post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise First Published March 8, 2014 6:38 PM