“Poise down the stretch.”
That mantra has lived in practices, timeout huddles and the most tense situations throughout Miami’s basketball history. It’s one that head coach Jim Larranega continues to preach.
“From an offensive standpoint, the last message to our players for the last forty years has been the same sentence,” Larrañaga said following the Hurricanes’ nail-biting victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers, 72-68.
It’s a Quadrant 2 win that propels Miami (14-6, 5-4 ACC) to over .500 in conference play and drops Pittsburgh (12-8, 3-6 ACC) three games below .500, a rough look for its resume come March. For those watching, however, the final score was much closer than anticipated.
With 10 minutes to go, the Panthers trailed 60-41, yet Pittsburgh saved its best play for last. Catalyzed by freshman guard Jaland Lowe and senior forward Blake Hinson, the Panthers rode their offense back into the game. By the two-minute mark, the ‘Canes held just an eight-point advantage. With 15 seconds left, Miami led 70-68 as Lowe brought the ball up the court.
Though Hinson would finish with 21 points and Lowe with 17, their efforts came up short as Miami big man Norchad Omier rejected Lowe’s potential game-winning three-pointer, securing the win with freshman Kyshawn George sealing it by knocking down two free throws.
A week after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Syracuse Orange, the Canes have put their woes behind them, in large part due to the return of Omier.
The junior came back from a one-game injury absence against Notre Dame on Wednesday, where he dropped a season-high 33-point double-double, following it up on Saturday by reaching his season average of 18 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no understatement to say his return has been monstrous.
Following an intense game in which Miami nearly capsized, Omier reiterated the idea of poise down the stretch.
“Everybody’s head was up, nobody was down, everybody looked confident,” the Nicaragua native said.
Adversity has been nothing new for the ‘Canes this season, as injuries have plagued them frequently. Against the Panthers, transfer Matthew Cleveland sat with a hip injury.
“You know this season hasn’t been good to us with injuries,” Omier said. “Everybody who came off the bench, they played hard.”
That includes freshman Paul Djobet, who earned his first minutes since the ‘Canes played North Florida in late December. Djobet was an x-factor in ways that won’t immediately show on the stat sheet. He recorded the highest plus-minus for Miami at plus-13, meaning the ‘Canes outscored the Panthers by 13 points when he was on the floor.
“He’s been practicing all season long, he’s got a great attitude, a great work ethic,” Larrañaga said.
Miami outrebounded Pitt 41-37, held the Panthers to just a 38% clip from the field, had four starters score in double figures, including George, and led for nearly the entire game.
“The regular season is not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” Larrañaga said.
Miami takes on North Carolina State on Tuesday at PNC Arena. Tip-off is at 9 p.m.