CLEMSON - Brad Brownell could see it in his players' eyes. This was not good.
A poor dry-erase whiteboard nearby felt the wrath of Brownell's fist, a rare show of fire from Clemson's relatively mild-mannered head coach, to desperately rouse his players in a team huddle with five extra minutes still to play.
Jumper cables wouldn't have jolted the Tigers, devoid of the life they showed for 40 minutes. What a painful form to throw away victory with one careless mistake, one that will cost Brownell some sleep and the Tigers a happy-ever-after to this memorable regular season.
Outplayed all afternoon, Pittsburgh was gifted a chance at redemption, and didn't let it escape in the Panthers' 83-78 overtime victory Saturday afternoon at sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum, which didn't unfold without a touch of controversy on a last-millisecond basket.
"I guess you do this long enough, you'll see a little bit of everything," Brownell said. "That's one I haven't experienced, and that's one that will be with me for a while."
Clemson (19-11, 10-8 ACC) had this one in its grasp, leading 67-62 after a pair of Jaron Blossomgame free throws with 13 seconds to go, waiting to celebrate with its finest home crowd of the season, ready to roar into the ACC tournament as a top-five seed riding all kinds of momentum the program hasn't experienced in a few years.
But after missing six of its seven shots since the seven-minute mark of the second period, Pitt (23-8, 11-7) sprang to life with Lamar Patterson's 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left on the clock.
Following a timeout, Clemson guard Damarcus Harrison had the task of an inbounds pass from underneath his own rim. He tried to spray it to forward K.J. McDaniels, but Patterson did enough to force the ball loose on the floor. Pitt freshman guard Josh Newkirk grabbed it, and after a slight hesitation let a jumper fly from 10 feet out.
"Yeah, we should have gone full-court on it," McDaniels said. "Because, two seconds left, he could have thrown it to one of our athletes and we could have caught the ball. It's all right."
It dropped in. It was inconclusive whether time had expired. After several dramatic minutes of video review, officials ruled they couldn't indisputably see the shot's timing was late, so they opted to count the basket, forcing overtime.
"They said it was really close, but it was clear that it had left (Newkirk's) hand," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "I knew they called it as a make. We were pretty sure it was a make, so the whole time, I was just preparing for overtime. Never had any doubt in my mind."
According to an explanation on the game's TV broadcast, referees indicated clocks are not synced through the entire arena or on television.
Media requests for a pool reporter to confer with lead official Les Jones were denied, and the only official statement from the referees' room offered was the call was a "judgment" determination.
"I could tell initially the referees were probably thinking it was good," Brownell said, "then they started watching it, and they really didn't know. It's interesting, if they had ruled it no good (initially), the game might be over. They said it was unbelievably close."
As it stood, a 5-0 Pitt run, in the final three seconds. Clemson was gassed, emotionally, and it showed during Pitt's 7-0 spurt to open the extra period.
"It was definitely a blow to us," Blossomgame said. "I do feel like some guys kind of checked out, felt like we already had the game won. So when we came out in overtime, we didn't really have any more energy."
Twice in the final minute, Clemson closed within three points, but Pitt hit 6-of-6 free throws in the last 44 seconds and never gave the Tigers a game-tying opportunity.
The Panthers improved to 4-0 in overtime this season, all in their past nine games.
The Tigers, picked to finish 14th by ACC preseason prognosticators, will receive either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in next week's league bracket. Clemson is sure to open Thursday in Greensboro against a double-digit seed; time and possible opponents will be determined following Sunday's Syracuse-Florida State game.
"We've got about 24 hours to feel sorry for ourselves," Brownell said. "We've got to wake up tomorrow and get ready for the ACC tournament."
Clemson led by 11 late in the first half, and held a 10-point advantage as late as 12:33 remaining in regulation.
"It's going to be overshadowed because of our last 15 seconds," Brownell said. "The biggest sting is we outplayed them for a long period of time, and didn't finish it. We've finished a bunch of these types of games all year."
Patterson led all players with 30 points; McDaniels countered with 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
Overlooked due to the collapse was the resurgence of reserve guard Jordan Roper, who scored 12 points in 21 minutes. Roper nailed three 3-pointers, after going empty from distance in his last seven games - a span in which he'd only tallied nine total points.
In the regular season, Clemson went 0-4 against the new ACC squads (Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame) and 10-4 against ACC mainstays.
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