In a surprising twist, a trip to Hawaii was really the first thing to make Miami basketball feel bad during this young basketball season. The Hurricanes took a top-5 ranking and unbeaten record to the Diamond Head Classic and left Honolulu with a surprising first loss to New Mexico State and a couple of other discouraging performances. On the eve of ACC play, No. 15 Miami suddenly looked vulnerable.
For more than 14 minutes Saturday, the Hurricanes’ struggles seemed as if they could be more than just a blip. Miami’s offense slogged again, scoring only 17 points in the first 14 minutes, 39 seconds. The Hurricanes trailed Pittsburgh, likely the worst team in the conference, until Anthony Lawrence II nailed a jumper with 6:20 to go in the period, and from there the floodgates finally opened. Miami figured its troubles out with a dominant end to the period. The Hurricanes opened ACC play with a 67-53 win in Pittsburgh.
“We feel like we’ve challenged ourselves,” coach Jim Larranaga said after the game.
It has been a rigorous stretch as the calendar flips to 2018 and it won’t end until the Hurricanes (12-1, 1-0) return to Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 7. Miami hasn’t played at the Watsco Center since Dec. 5, a stretch that has already included three road games and a pair of neutral-site tests five time zones away.
Hurricanes level Pittsburgh!
No. 15 Miami downs Pitt 67-53 to start ACC play. pic.twitter.com/ojxtemiHGz
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 30, 2017
The Hurricanes will play once more on the road Wednesday before they finally get to return home. While it hasn’t always been pretty, Miami has mostly survived. The Hurricanes’ only loss came Dec. 23 against New Mexico State, a team that has played in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, and on a shooting night that will likely go down as Miami’s worst of the season.
“I love to play on the road,” Lawrence said. “It’s a better crowd and the crowd’s against us.”
All that mattered was the Hurricanes were ready for Saturday when they began conference play at the Petersen Events Center, a notoriously difficult environment for road teams. It took time, but eventually Miami dispatched Pitt (8-6, 0-1) with ease.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) December 30, 2017
This time, turnovers plagued the Hurricanes, who coughed away 8 possessions during the first half. After 14 minutes, Miami trailed against a team that could wind up among the worst in any Power 5 conference.
The final 2:39 of the first half was an eruption. Star shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV opened up by making a pair of free throws to give Miami a 21-18 lead. Center Ebuka Izundu followed with a layup a possession later, then Lawrence nailed a 3-pointer. Two more free throws by Walker and a jumper by guard Ja’Quan Newton sent the Hurricanes into halftime with a commanding 30-19 lead. A 13-1 lead, which would peak at 15-1, turned a narrow game into a blowout.
Lawrence led the way with 12 points, his second highest total of the season. Newton and star shooting guard Bruce Brown each added 11. Freshman guard Chris Lykes chipped in 10 more. Miami’s balance returned, its defense smothered and the Hurricanes once again played like a team that could win the ACC.
“Thought our kids played hard, fought hard,” Panthers coach Kevin Stallings said. “We just didn’t have enough answers.”