|by David Hood|
Clinging to a five-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, the Tigers allowed Lamar Patterson to hit a clutch 3-pointer with three seconds remaining and a disputed jumper as the clock ran out allowed Pitt to send the game to overtime, where they scored the period’s first seven points and escaped a packed and loud Littlejohn Coliseum with an 83-78 victory.
Pitt (23-8, 11-17 Atlantic Coast Conference) clinched fifth place in the ACC standings, while Clemson’s (19-11, 10-8) has to wait for the final ACC games to be played to know if It is a sixth or seventh seed.
Patterson, who scored a career-high 30 points, hit his three with three seconds left cut the Tigers' lead to 67-65. Josh Newkirk picked up a loose ball as Clemson fumbled the inbounds pass and hit a tying jumper that just beat the buzzer.
Officials took several minutes reviewing Newkirk's shot and decided there wasn't indisputable evidence to rule it came after time ran out. ACC official Les Jones – while not available to the media after the game - did tell Clemson’s Sports Information department that the call was a judgment call and not open to interpretation.
According to some reports, one clock and video showed the ball still in Newkirk’s hand after time had elapsed, the clock on the other end of the court showed one-tenth of a second, and the officials allowed the shot to stand.
(Clemson officials dispute those reports, saying the superimposed time used by the ACC Network broadcast was delayed through the truck. All clocks were synchronized.)
Patterson then struck for his fifth 3-pointer as the Panthers scored the first seven points of the extra period. Clemson twice got within three points in the final minute of overtime, the last when Rod Hall stole the inbounds pass and hit a layup with 19 seconds left. However, Cameron Wright followed with two clinching foul shots.
“I think we thought we had the game won, and they guys kind of checked out mentally,” said Jaron Blossomgame, who scored 12 points. “I didn’t see the shot, so I didn’t know if it was good or not, but you could tell that the officials thought it was good. Now we have to come back tomorrow and throw up some shots and get ready for the ACC Tournament.
K.J. McDaniels had 24 points to lead the Tigers, who were seeking their first-ever 11-win ACC season. Hall added 12 and Jordan Roper came off the bench to score 12 big points.
“This is a painful loss to experience,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “This is one that will be with me for a while. This is disappointing because we played well enough to win, but obviously that will be overshadowed because of the last 15 seconds. This is hard to get over, but we have about 24 hours to feel sorry for ourselves and then we have to get ready for the ACC Tournament.”
He then said he thought the Tigers could get ball inbounds and force Pitt to foul.
“I really thought we could get the ball inbounds. I guess we didn’t.” he said. “I guess it went off K.J.’s leg. It was an unlucky bounce. They got it and made the shot. And the officials didn’t really give an explanation. They said it was unbelievably close. So, whatever.”
The first half belonged to the Tigers, who shot 57.7% from the field (15-26), including 5-for-10 from beyond the arc. The Tigers started hot – getting a 3-pointer from McDaniels to open the game – but the Panthers clawed back into the game and took a 17-13 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the half.
Jordan Roper started a 19-4 Clemson run over the next 5:36 by draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and the run ended on a Jaron Blossomgame 3-pointer that put Clemson ahead 32-21 with just over five minutes left in the half. Clemson eventually led 38-33 at the break.
The Tigers tried to put the Panthers away during the first nine minutes of the second half, but Cameron Wright and the Panthers refused to go away as Clemson held onto the five-point lead at 48-43 at the under-12 media timeout.
Clemson managed a lone free throw coming out of the timeout, but two turnovers led to two Pitt baskets, the second one a dunk by Lamar Patterson. He was fouled, hit the free throw and Clemson led by just one at 49-48 with a little over 10 minutes remaining.
Roper then hit his third 3-pointer of the contest – deep from the right wing – to get the Littlejohn crowd back in the contest and put the Tigers ahead 52-48 at the 9:55 mark. Pitt eventually tied the game at 56-56 on a layup by Patterson - following a Hall turnover – a minute later, and the Panthers had a chance to take the lead twenty seconds later but were thwarted by a Darmarcus Harrison steal.
Harrison then made the Panthers pay on the offensive end, slicing through the lane for a right-handed layup, giving Clemson a 58-56 lead with just under six minutes left on the game clock, and Roper brought the Littlejohn crowd to its feet thirty seconds later when he slammed home an errant shot by Hall for a 60-56 lead.
True to form, however, the Panthers managed to tie the score at 60-60 on a layup by Patterson at the 3:32 mark, but McDaniels put the Tigers ahead 62-60 on a signature dunk a few seconds later, forcing a Pitt timeout at the 3:20 mark.
The Tigers then held the five-point lead in the final seconds when Pitt started its miraculous comeback.
Brownell said he didn’t like the look his players had in the huddle after regulation.
“I didn’t like the look in our eyes, to be honest,” he said. “I actually hit my fist into a dry erase board to try and wake our guys up because they didn’t look good. They weren’t in a good place, and we didn’t come back.”
The Tigers have a first round bye for the Wednesday beginning of the ACC Tournament.
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David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org