PITTSBURGH (AP) — His team’s 10-point lead gone and a timeout at his disposal, Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel could have called the Panthers over and tried to settle them down in the final seconds against Boston College on Wednesday night.
Instead, Capel went the other way, trusting his players to make the right decision. A timeout would have let the Eagles set their defense. By opting not to use one, Capel felt his team still had the advantage.
It did. As Boston College scrambled to cover Pitt guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, Ryan Murphy squirted free. Justin Champagnie spotted Murphy breaking open and fed him the ball. Murphy sprinted to the top of the key and let fly a jumper that was pure the moment he let it go.
“I felt really calm,” Murphy said.
He looked it as the ball dropped through the net with 4 seconds to go to give the Panthers a 74-72 victory, one that wasn’t truly secured until Champagnie intercepted Boston College’s ensuing inbounds pass just before time ran out.
“In the end we found a way,” Capel said. “I like the way when they score to tie it, it was a broken play. We didn’t want to call timeout. We had the wherewithal to get it in, push it up.”
And find Murphy. The junior college transfer has become Pitt’s top shooter midway through his first season and couples it with a conscience. He rarely takes a bad shot, and rather than try to drive to the basket with the clock ticking away, he created a bit of space at the top of the key and let it fly.
“Justin found Murph and Murph stepped up and made the big-time shot,” Capel said. “He’s always been confident in his ability to shoot the basketball.”
Murphy finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 3 of 3 3-pointers. It was his only two-point field goal that gave Pitt (13-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) its first ACC winning streak in nearly three years.
Such heroics didn’t feel necessary after the Panthers turned an early 14-point deficit into a 10-point lead with less than 5 minutes to go. But Pitt relaxed and Boston College kept plugging away, eventually drawing even on a Derryck Thornton lay-up with 12 seconds to go.
“We showed some character,” Eagles coach Jim Christian said. “We turned them over and made some shots.”
Just not quite enough to keep Boston College (9-10, 3-5) from dropping its fourth straight. Jay Heath’s 16 points paced five Eagles who finished in double figures. Thornton and Jairus Hamilton chipped in 13 points each and forward Steffon Mitchell added 12 points after missing a loss to Wake Forest with the flu, but Boston College couldn’t quite make it all the way back after letting a 33-19 first-half lead evaporate.
“We got down 10 because we came a little bit out of character and guys tried to take the game over by themselves and took ridiculous shots,” Christian said.
Champagnie led Pitt with 17 points. Au’Diese Toney added 16 and McGowens scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half as the Panthers equaled their conference victory total from the last two seasons combined.
It didn’t look like it would happen early.
The Eagles, blown out in each of their last three games following an upset win over Virginia on Jan. 7, overcame 10 turnovers to build a sizable lead. Knocking down 6 of 11 3-pointers helped. So did a Pitt offense that looked disjointed at best over the opening 18 minutes. Champagnie provided the late spark to bring the Panthers to life, and Murphy’s shot gave Pitt back-to-back ACC wins for the first time since Feb. 8-11, 2017.
Capel hopes more are on the way, but allows his team needs to learn how to play with a lead. It let the Tar Heels hang around on Saturday by taking its foot off the gas in the second half. It nearly happened again.
“We’re trying to build winning habits and it’s something collectively as a group that we don’t have,” Capel said. “I don’t know if it’s youth, inexperience … bottom line, we don’t have it. You get a lead, human nature tells you I can relax now, I can take this possession off.”
Boston College: The win over the Cavaliers seems like a long time ago. What appeared to be a potentially season-defining triumph instead looks like an anomaly. At least the Eagles rediscovered their shooting stroke against Pitt. Boston College made 10 of 24 3-pointers on Wednesday after going 12 of 59 from 3 in its previous two games.
Pitt: Champagnie’s season looked to be in trouble when he was sidelined by a knee issue in the fall. He’s starting to find a rhythm midway through the season and he’s perhaps Pitt’s most versatile scorer, comfortable both behind the 3-point line and in the lane.
Boston College: Hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Pitt: Travels to Syracuse on Saturday for the first of two meetings with the Orange.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25