With under a minute left, Pittsburg Panthers senior guard James Robinson drilled a deep three to tie the Hurricanes at 63 points apiece. The Canes marched back down the court with 30 seconds left, and senior guard Sheldon McClellan launched up a corner three that bounced around the rim. Just as it seemed the shot would fall to the ground, redshirt senior guard Angel Rodriguez tipped in what would be the game-winning basket for the Canes. The Panthers got the ball back with a second remaining, and the final half-court heave fell short, giving the No. 12 Canes (19-4, 8-3) its 19th win of the season, 65-63 at the BankUnited Center Tuesday night.
“We needed a little bit of luck at the end, and Angel Rodriguez provided it,” Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said.
The Canes were led by Rodriguez who had 17 points, and by senior center Tonye Jekiri who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
From the early going, the game was a back and forth affair. It was tied at 12 points apiece at the 11-minute mark of the first half, almost six minutes of the gameplay leading up to that mark had been tied. The Panthers began to breakaway toward the middle part of the half, as the Canes’ offense struggled to get into any rhythm, shooting 37.5 percent from the field.
With four minutes left in the first half, Larrañaga sparked the offense by putting the Canes into a small lineup, with 6-foot-7 freshman forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. being the tallest Cane on the court. McClellan capped the Canes’ offensive onslaught when he scored on a coast-to-coast buzzer beater, cutting the Panther’s lead to 33-28 at the half.
The Canes struggled to shoot from the field in the first half. This can be attributed to the effective 3-2 zone defense played by Pitt. Free throws were another story. The Panthers and Canes, the top two free throw shooting squads in the ACC respectively, were a perfect 19-of-19 from the charity stripe.
Opening the second half, the Canes were able to take the lead as the offense began to feature Jekiri. He scored on three field goals in the first five minutes of the half, after only scoring two points in six minutes in the first half.
“I really came out looking to be aggressive,” Jekiri said.
The Canes were without senior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, who was suffering from an illness. Uceda, a marksman from downtown, could have helped the Canes, as the team shot a poor 6-of-20 from beyond the arc.
The Panthers were led by junior forward Michael Young, who had 12 points. He is eighth in the ACC in scoring with 16.8 points per game.
The Canes will next be in action when it takes on ACC rival FSU on Sunday Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Tallahassee.