PITTSBURGH — Anthony Lawrence II doesn’t get homesick much. The way the athletic and versatile Miami forward figures it, the schedule makers can send the 15th-ranked Hurricanes wherever they please. The more nights in a hotel, the better.
“I love to play on the road because it’s a better crowd and the crowd’s against us,” Lawrence said. “We play better.”
Looks like it.
Lawrence finished with a team-high 12 points and Miami smothered Pittsburgh when it mattered in a 67-53 victory on Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both schools.
Five days and five time zones from a third-place finish at the Diamondhead Invitational in Hawaii, the Hurricanes (12-1, 1-0) used their suffocating man-to-man defense and their significant size and talent advantage to end Pitt’s modest three-game winning streak.
Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown Jr. chipped in 11 points each for the Hurricanes and Chris Lykes added 10 points off the bench for Miami, which has spent most of the last six weeks traveling the country far afield from Coral Gables. The Hurricanes have played at Watsco Arena just once since Thanksgiving, while visiting Minnesota, Washington D.C., Hawaii and Pennsylvania in that stretch.
“We feel like we’ve challenged ourselves,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said.
One the Hurricanes passed with relative ease against the undermanned and inexperienced Panthers. Miami held Pitt (8-6, 0-1) to 40 percent shooting, outrebounded the Panthers 31-23 and forced 19 turnovers.
“When we needed to get by them, we couldn’t (and) when we did get by them, they’ve got the length at the goal which is a problem,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Again, thought our kids played hard, fought hard, we just didn’t have enough answers.”
Shamiel Stevenson led the Panthers with 16 points and Jared-Wilson Frame had 13 points but Pitt simply couldn’t keep up. Miami outscored the Panthers 40-28 in the paint and got to the rim regularly during a 13-1 run at the end of the first half that broke it open. The majority of the run came with Pitt freshman point guard Marcus Carr on the bench with three fouls.
“There are too many possessions feel that like a trip to the dentist,” Stallings said. “It was made a lot worse today without Marcus in the game.”
The Panthers came in having won seven of eight to give their massively overhauled roster a needed confidence boost. Yet all seven wins came against teams from one-bid conferences. The Hurricanes presented a significant step up in class, one Pitt was forced to take without senior forward Ryan Luther, who missed his fourth straight game with a foot injury.
Luther is Pitt’s lone experienced post player. Still, the Panthers actually hung around for the first 13 minutes or so until the offensive issues that have dogged them at times against quality opponents resurfaced. Once the Hurricanes figured out they could get into the lane whenever they wanted, the Panthers offered little resistance.
Miami used a late surge to go up 30-19 at the half. Newton opened the second half with a runner, Brown hit consecutive layups and Ebuka Izundu followed with a dunk during a quick burst to start the second half that put the Hurricanes up 16 and Miami was never in trouble again.
Luther is averaging 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds for Pitt and his presence gives the alarmingly young Panthers a calming presence. Yet he remains sidelined by a stress reaction in his right foot. Stallings think it’s unlikely Luther will be available for Tuesday’s trip to Louisville. The Panthers, picked to finish last in the ACC, need Luther if they want to be remotely competitive in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.
Miami: The Hurricanes have a mix of size and quickness that will make them a difficult matchup. Miami was never in any real trouble against Pitt even with freshman Lonnie Walker in the midst of a slump. The McDonald’s All-America finished with eight points in 27 minutes and is 2 for 13 from the field over his last four games.
Pitt: Stevenson could end up being the best of the seven freshmen on the roster. His jumper remains a work in progress but he has touch around the rim and the body (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) to withstand the grind that awaits in the ACC.
Miami: Visits Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The Hurricanes are 6-2 against the Yellow Jackets under Larranaga.
Pitt: Travels to Louisville on Tuesday. The Panthers are 0-6 to the Cardinals since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014.