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Hurricanes drop first ACC matchup to Pittsburgh with only seven scholarship players available

Miami was not able to rebound with a win against Pittsburgh after being upset by Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday, as they fell to 0-1 in the ACC with minor injuries to Isaiah Wong and Matt Cross.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Miami-Florida
Hurricanes forward Deng Gak attempts to rebound the ball against Pittsburgh Panthers guard Au’Diese Toney and forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly under the basket during the second half at the Watsco Center (Coral Gables, Fla.).
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh guard Ithiel Horton scored 18 points and guard Au’Diese Toney had 15 points, as the Miami Hurricanes fell to the Pittsburgh Panthers 70-55 in their first game of ACC competition on Wednesday night at the Watsco Center.

The team’s second straight loss, however, came with two more scholarship players in sophomore guard Isaiah Wong and freshman forward Matt Cross limping off the court during the second half. Wong experienced cramps in his leg, while Cross landed awkwardly on his left knee after missing a fast break layup. Both eventually remained available to return.

“The guys who played tonight played almost the whole game,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said after being forced to compete with six scholarship players. “We’ve got no guys to practice against. So, we’ll shoot some free throws, we’ll shoot some threes, and we’ll talk about our opponent. But it’s not like we’re going to go out and practice like you normally would when you normally have (enough players). We’re not gonna be running our offense to go against the zone.”

The Panthers (5-1) heated up from the perimeter in the second half, going on an 8-0 run by the 12-minute mark, after Miami (3-2) initially did the same out of the intermission to lead 35-34. The Canes were not able to sustain that scoring burst, shooting just 17-of-52 from the field, nonetheless.

“All I can say is we just gotta get in the gym and get better,” sophomore forward Anthony Walker said, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting. “Shoot a better percentage with more confidence, but we’ll get better.”

Top scorers in forward Justin Champagnie (19.4 points per game) and guard Xavier Johnson (16.8 points per game) remained quiet in the first half, as both committed two fouls. Freshman John Hugley picked up the scoring load for Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel, leading the team with nine points before halftime.

“I thought John Hugley in the first half was terrific,” Capel said. “[He] gave us a presence down low, was able to score, and draw some fouls.”

Stony Brook transfer guard Elijah Olaniyi, who had been expected to sit out this winter due to the NCAA’s traditional transfer rules, was granted to play after the NCAA waived its sit-out requirement for Division I student-athletes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

The senior guard wasted little time trying to make an impact with his veteran experience, despite only scoring seven points and converting on two of 11 field goal attempts. He also committed two fouls but led the team with three assists through 37 minutes.

“It was great getting the news that he could play,” Walker said. “He brought a lot of energy before the game [and] during the game. It was just great seeing him out there. Hopefully we can build off this game and just keep getting better as a team, and I think we will.”

Champagnie, who recently had two consecutive games with 20 points and 20 rebounds, would eventually finish with 10 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, but Horton would continue to lead the Panthers’ attack, scoring all of his 18 points in the second half.

“It was great to see Ithiel step up and start making some shots,” Capel said on the redshirt sophomore’s 4-of-5 3-point shooting exhibition. “That’s something that we’ve seen a lot in practice, and hopefully this is a game that gets him going. It gives us a different weapon when he’s shooting the ball and playing with confidence like that. For him to do that in his first ACC game on the road was big time.”

Horton would initiate his own 6-0 run with back-to-back threes that extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 16 with under three minutes remaining.

“Whenever I get it, I’m going to look at the rim,” Horton said. “If it’s not there, I’m not gonna force it. But if I make that first shot, it’s on. I’m going to still play within the team offense and the team chemistry.”

Miami, on the other hand, saw little daylight once again from beyond the arc as experienced in the momentous comeback versus Purdue and in the narrow loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.

“We just can’t make any shots,” Larrañaga said. “We ended up going 5-for-24 from three, [which is] 20 percent. You just can’t win games when you can’t make open threes and free throws.”

The Hurricanes will continue to look for their regained perimeter scoring on Saturday afternoon against Jacksonville (4-2) of the Atlantic Sun conference. This will be the program’s final non-conference matchup of the regular season with ACC matchups scheduled until March 5, and the ACC Tournament to follow.

The interconference game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports Sun at 3:30 p.m.