Miami takes No. 1 seed in ACC, edges Pitt for title

The Hurricanes share the regular-season title with Virginia, which clinched its half of the crown with a win over Louisville.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga addresses the fans after the Hurricanes defeated Pitt Saturday at Watsco Center in Coral Gables.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga addresses the fans after the Hurricanes defeated Pitt Saturday at Watsco Center in Coral Gables. [ D.A. VARELA | Miami Herald ]
Published March 5, 2023

CORAL GABLES — Miami coach Jim Larrañaga climbed the ladder, grabbed the last strand of net, ripped it off the rim and waved it in the air.

It took all 20 league games, going down to the final second, but his Hurricanes can call themselves Atlantic Coast Conference champions.

Wooga Poplar made a career-best six 3-pointers for 18 points, and 16th-ranked Miami captured the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament with a 78-76 win over No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

“This was a nice celebration, it feels great — but we’re far from done,” Miami’s Jordan Miller said. “We have a lot bigger things planned ahead and this was just a token for our hard work so far.”

Miami (24-6, 15-5 ACC) shares the regular-season title with Virginia, which clinched its half of the crown with a 75-60 win over Louisville earlier Saturday.

“We won the marathon,” Larrañaga said in the middle of the on-court party, the net sitting across his shoulders. “The ACC, it’s a marathon. And we won it.”

The Cavaliers also cut down the nets in Charlottesville after their game — but they’ll be the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament, behind a Hurricanes team that was picked fourth in the league’s preseason poll and beat Virginia in the teams’ only meeting.

It’s Miami’s first No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament since 2013.

“The ACC Tournament has to be our next goal,” Larrañaga said. “We’ve got to get focused for that.”

Miller scored 17 points and Norchad Omier had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Hurricanes — who held a whopping 42-20 rebounding edge.

Blake Hinson had 24 points for Pitt (21-10, 14-6), which would have been the No. 1 seed with a win. Nike Sibande scored 16 for the Panthers, who got 13 from Jamarius Burton and 10 from Nelly Cummings.

Hinson made a contested 3 with 13 seconds left, getting Pitt within 78-76. Isaiah Wong got the inbounds pass to Omier, who ran 4.7 seconds off the clock before getting fouled — but he missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving Pitt one last chance.

It came from Hinson, who fired from about 35 feet. The shot hit the rim, time expired and the Hurricanes student section poured from the stands to celebrate a title.

“I’m really proud of the effort, the fight that our guys displayed to come down on the road against a really good team,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “I thought we gave a championship performance, championship effort. We just came up a little bit short.”

Pitt ended up as the No. 5 seed for the ACC Tournament — matching its best-ever starting spot in that event. The Panthers also were seeded fifth for the conference tourney in 2014, their first year as ACC members.

Poplar had never made more than two 3-pointers in a game for Miami, and entered Saturday with six 3s in his last six games combined. But he kept making them at the biggest times for the Hurricanes, who led for all but about 5 1/2 minutes and kept thwarting every Pitt try at the lead.

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“I was just trying to win,” Poplar said. “My teammates kept giving me the confidence to shoot, and I kept shooting it.”

This season has been an amazing turnaround for Pitt, which was a No. 12 seed — or worse — in each of the last six ACC tournaments. The Panthers were 12th on the bracket in each of the last two years, 13th in 2020, 14th in 2019, 15th in 2018 and 14th in 2017.

Capel inherited a program that had lost 19 consecutive games against ACC opponents. Entering this season, the Panthers had — by far — the ACC’s worst record in conference regular-season and tournament games, going 28-91 in that span.

“Fortunately, we have more season left,” Capel said.

Big picture

Pitt: The Panthers go to the ACC Tournament already assured of snapping the program’s streak of six consecutive losing seasons. The last time a Pitt team won more games in a season was 2013-14, when the Panthers went 26-10.

Miami: Larrañaga became the 14th men’s coach to win at least 250 games at two different four-year schools. He won 273 at George Mason, and now has 250 at Miami. Some of the other names on that list: Bob Huggins, Roy Williams, Rollie Massimino, Eddie Sutton, Lou Henson, Bo Ryan, Dana Altman and Fran Dunphy.

Poll implications

Miami has been ranked in each of the last 12 polls, all somewhere between No. 12 and No. 25. Pitt was ranked this week for the first time since the poll of Jan. 11, 2016.

50 for Miami

This is the second time in program history that Miami has won 50 games in a two-year span. Last year’s club went 26-11. The 2014-15 and 2015-16 clubs combined to win 52 games.

Up next

Pitt: ACC Tournament second round on Wednesday against either Florida State or Georgia Tech.

Miami: ACC quarterfinals Thursday against either Syracuse or Wake Forest.

By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer

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