Well ladies and gentleman, it doesn't get any bigger than this as the Pittsburgh Panthers (23-8) (11-7) traveled to Littlejohn Coliseum to take on the Clemson Tigers (19-11) (10-8) in a showdown to determine who would finish in 5th place in the ACC. Clemson was looking to add its 20th win on the season for just the 13th time in program history and to put an exclamation point on the critics who picked them to finish 14th overall in the pre-season conference standings.
It was also senior day at Littlejohn Coliseum! Only one problem...Clemson doesn't have any seniors on its roster. As a result, Clemson decided to turn it into Alumni Day as some of the Clemson Basketball greats returned to the court to watch the 2013-14 Tigers try to crack the safe and put their names on the list of great teams before them that have finished a season with 20 or more wins. The only thing standing in the way was a Pittsburgh team that humiliated them the last time these teams met.
K.J. McDaniels opened the scoring by nailing the first shot that he took; a 3-pointer to put the Tigers on the board. It was the start that the Tigers needed in the biggest game of their season. Unfortunately after that, the Tigers reverted back to the team that they were the last time that they played Pitt, as they started to turn the ball over.
Clemson would turn it over 4 of the next 5 possessions as Pitt would use a quick 9-2 run which had the Tiger fans wondering if we were in for another hard to watch game that could be put away early. Harrison would drive to the lane and convert on a layup and Jaron Blossomgame would throw down a monstrous dunk off of a feed from a double teamed Landry Nnoko to close the gap to 11-9 heading into the first television timeout.
With the Ibrahim Djambo and Sidy Djitte coming in to give the starters a rest, Pittsburgh would take advantage. What makes Pittsburgh such a dangerous team is that they are extremely smart and well coached. Noticing the match-ups on the court, Pittsburgh used spacing off of the pick and roll to catch Djitte out of position to start getting to the basket.
Rod Hall would keep Clemson in the game as the only offensive weapon on the floor by making his trademark floater twice from the lane, his 2nd with 12:28 remaining in the half to cut the Pittsburgh lead to 14-13. Lamar Patterson would step back and hit a 3-pointer to send the Panthers into the 2nd television timeout with a 4 point lead.
Clemson was hanging offensively, and was hitting most of its shots. In fact, at this point they were shooting 6-of-7 from the field. The problem was, they had 6 turnovers to match their 6 field goals. As Pittsburgh switched to a zone defense, Clemson continued to shoot the ball well, this time from 3-point range.
Jordan Roper entered the game and hit his first 3-pointer of the contest to trim the lead to 1. McDaniels would give Clemson the lead with his 3-pointer with 9:15 remaining 19-17. That was just the beginning for the Tigers as Freshman Austin Ajukwa would spear a 9-0 run for the Tigers, capped with an Ajukwa dunk in transition with 6:35 remaining to put Clemson ahead by 10, 29-19.
We would see quick 4-0 spurts by both teams at the end if the first half that evened out the scores as Clemson went into the locker room with a 38-29 lead. In the first half, Clemson had shot 15-of-26 from the field (57.7%) including 5-of-10 from behind the 3-point line, and had out-rebounded the Panthers by a margin of 16-11.
If there is one thing that we already know about this Pittsburgh team, it is that Jamie Dixon is not going to let his team give up at the half. The second half began almost exactly like the first half did. Clemson turned the ball over on their first 2 possessions and Pittsburgh turned those turnovers into 4 points to trim the lead to 5.
Clemson's offense was forcing the ball to K.J. McDaniels and he was taking bad shots. The streak for Clemson wouldn't end until Jaron Blossomgame hit another big 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 10 points with 16:06 remaining in the game.
The 2nd half had a theme to it. Clemson would throw a haymaker at the Panthers, and they would take it on the chin and counter-punch immediately back. After Blossomgame's 3-pointer gave Clemson some life, Cameron Wright immediately answered with a layup and Lamar Patterson (who was absolutely phenomenal in the 2nd half) hit the first of his many 3's to cut the lead to 5.
Clemson threw another haymaker with 12:55 to go as Jordan Roper nailed another 3-pointerto extend the lead back to 10 with 12:55 remaining. Once again, Pitt would answer as Cameron Wright nailed a 3-pointer of his own 20 seconds later.
With 10 minutes to go in the game, Lamar Patterson went off. Scoring 5 consecutive points including a lay-up while being fouled, his foul shot trimmed a once 11 point Tiger lead to 1 to make the score 49-48.
Jordan Roper and K.J. McDaniels wouldn't let Clemson go away that easily. Roper immediately hit another 3-pointer and McDaniels scored 4 consecutive points of his own, including a lay-up and a foul to increase the lead back to 56-51 with 8:05 remaining. Once again, Lamar Patterson answered by squaring up and hitting yet another 3-pointer. His layup with 7:02 remaining finally tied the score at 56-56.
The teams traded 4-0 runs before McDaniels separated the Tigers with 4 points of his own. Using a rub screen from Nnoko he flew down the lane for an uncontested dunk. After a Patterson missed jumper, McDaniels buried a layup after a Damarcus Harrison airball late in the clock to give the tigers a 64-60 lead with 1:17 to play.
That's when the wheels came off for the Tigers. With 45 seconds remaining and a chance to ice the game at the free throw line, Rod Hall missed the front end of a 1-and-1. No harm was done as Cameron Wright missed a jumper and Michael Young missed the 3-pointer off of the offensive rebound. Rod Hall was fouled again with 24 seconds remaining. He hit the first free throw, but again, missed the second.
Pittsburgh would race the ball down the court and James Robinson was fouled and would convert on both free throws to cut the lead to 65-62. Blossomgame was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and coolly knocked down both Free Throws to extend the lead back to 67-62 with 13 seconds remaining.
Pittsburgh once again took it down the court and James Robinson fired a 3-pointer off the mark. The ball would go out of bounds to the Panthers and on the inbounds play, guess who, Lamar Patterson hit a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining, prompting a quick Panther timeout.
Then it happened. With 1-timeout remaining and Damarcus Harrison inbounding the ball, late in the 5-second count, he tried to force a pass to McDaniels. The pass was errant and rolled to an open Josh Newkirk who pump faked and let go a shot as the time expired. The shot went in, but it was immediately clear that the shot was going to be reviewed as it was a nano-second difference between the release and the expiration of time.
We are going to be covering the shot in an article immediately after this, but needless to say, the shot counted. The Clemson players headed back to the bench with their heads hanging low and the announcers were right, the Tigers just had no chance in Ovetime.
Pittsburgh scored the first 7 points in the extra period and it was as good as over. Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels kept the Tigers alive at times, but Cameron Wright and Lamar Patterson were 6-for-6 from the line in the last minute as Pittsburgh skated out of Clemson with a 83-78 overtime victory.
Clemson had nobody to blame but themselves for this loss, but at the same time, did play well today. K.J. McDaniels led the team in scoring 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting and nailing two 3-pointers. He also grabbed 4 rebounds and dished out 4 assists. Rod Hall finished with 12 on 4-of-6 shooting with 4 rebounds and 6 assists. The rest of Clemson's scoring came from some unexpected places as Jaron Blossomgame added 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting including 2 big 3-pointers to go along with his 6 rebounds. Jordan Roper also made a big contribution adding 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting including three 3-pointers.
After leading the rebounding at the half, the Panthers ended up crushing the Tigers on the glass in the 2nd half and overtime period to end up out-rebounding the Tigers 35-28. Although Clemson did manage to shoot 47.4%, well over its season average, it allowed Pittsburgh to shoot 50.0% from the field in tonight's contest.
For Pittsburgh, it was all Lamar Patterson as he finished with 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and nailing five 3-pointers. Cameron Wright added 16 points of his own while Talib Zanna finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
Clemson will now likely head into the ACC Tournament as the 6 seed, knowing that they will likely have to win the tournament in order for them to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Please stay tuned to Shakin the Southland as we will be posting a breakdown of the last second shot from today's game shortly.