The Miami Hurricanes, playing without injured Bruce Brown for the first time this season, squandered a 15-point lead and were in danger of losing to a Pitt team that is 0-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But then freshman Lonnie Walker IV put on his cape and came to the rescue, scoring seven consecutive points to help UM regain the lead and defeat the Panthers 69-57.
Here are five takeaways from the game...
1. Walker, the much-celebrated freshman, continues to impress.
After struggling the first half, going 1-for-4, Walker came to life just when the Hurricanes needed him most. Pitt had just reeled off 14 straight points to cap a 19-5 run and take a 44-43 lead on a three-pointer by Jared Wilson-Frame. Walker couldn’t stand it anymore.
He drove to the basket, drawing a foul, and made two free throws. Less than a minute later, he grabbed a defensive rebound, raced up the floor and drove to the rim for a layup. Anthony Lawrence then got a steal and passed it to Walker, who launched a three from long distance. All of a sudden, Miami was ahead again, 50-44, and the Canes never trailed again.
“I don’t like losing at all, so after they made that three, we took a time out,” Walker explained. “They were a little excited, confident. They were shooting really well through the entire game, so I got into my tunnel-vision mode to the point where I just felt like I had to take over. I have great teammates that make the game easier for me. Throughout that span it just felt like I can do whatever I want to do if I put my mind to it.”
UM coach Jim Larrañaga was as impressed as the Watsco Center crowd.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said. “I was calling a play and he was launching an NBA three. He’s got himself in a really good place mentally. And I think his teammates are recognizing that and trying to get him the ball regularly. He’s been our leading shot taker. He had 10, Anthony had 11. He’s taken enough shots that he can have a spurt like that. I’m real proud of him for the way he is growing as a player and a teammate.”
2. Brown is hard to replace.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings was relieved not to have to contend with Brown, but he said he felt bad for him because he is one of his favorite players in the ACC.
“He defends, rebounds and passes and scores. I just think Bruce Brown is a phenomenal, phenomenal player,” Stallings said. “They’re deep enough to absorb his loss for a while, but obviously, any team would be better with him.”
Although Brown’s shooting touch has come and gone this season, he is the team’s second-leading scorer (11.3 ppg), leading rebounder (7.1) and assist leader (3.9). He is also a team leader on and off the court. He is having surgery on his left foot Thursday, and is expected to be out for six weeks.
“Having someone like Bruce Brown, he brings a certain presence on the court that not too many players can bring,” said Walker. “When he’s there, it makes life much easier, whether it’s rebounding, active on the boards, active defensively, driving, kicking. He’s one of those players that gets everyone going before he gets himself going. He keeps everyone gelled together. We have to get used to fighting without him.”
Walker and Lawrence said the news of Brown’s injury hit the team hard.
“We were really sad; so now, everything we do is for him,” Walker said.
3. Lawrence is quietly making a big impact.
Lawrence, a 6-7 junior forward, doesn’t get as much media attention as his teammates, but he has become one of the most consistent players on the team. Coming into Wednesday’s game, he was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He scored 19 at Florida State in an overtime loss.
“He’s having a phenomenal junior year, shooting at a high rate, rebounding at a high rate,” Larrañaga said. “The other guys really enjoy playing with him because he’s very good at finding the open man. We need him to take on the defensive role that Kamari Murphy had last year, which is a little more of a challenge for him. We only gave up three free throws tonight, and it’s key he does not foul because we cannot have him on the bench.”
4. The Canes still need to work on their defense, especially on the perimeter.
The Panthers made 10 three pointers. Miami switched to a zone, which it rarely uses, after the Panther’s second-half run, and it seemed to work. Sam Waardenburg and Lawrence gave the Canes size, and Walker also was active in the zone.
“Definitely we have to pick it up on the defensive side,” Lawrence said. “We’ve given up way too many threes and easy buckets. We just need to take care of that.”
5. Chris Lykes got more minutes, Ja’Quan Newton fewer.
Lykes, a freshman in his second start, played 33 minutes. Newton, a senior, played 15. Lykes had 13 points and five assists. Newton had three points and two assists.
“During Ja’Quan Newton’s career, maybe his best basketball was coming off the bench,” Larrañaga said. “So, you’re hopeful by putting him in that role, maybe he’ll really respond. Secondly, we anticipated that Pittsburgh was going to zone, so we wanted to get as much three-point shooting out there as we could. Chris can really shoot the three, Lonnie can shoot the three, DJ (Vasiljevic) can shoot the three and Anthony Lawrence can shoot the three. So, we started those four guys anticipating the zone.”