Johnson's hot hand leads Pitt men to ACC victory over Maryland
Pitt's proficiency from beyond the arc often depends on Durand Johnson's streaky stroke. When the fearless shooter is on, the Panthers are dangerous.
And when he's off, their range can be limited.
What Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has preached to Johnson is that his game can't be limited to whether he's making 3-pointers.
One game after going scoreless at N.C. State, the Baltimore native scored a career-high 17 points as Pitt cruised to a 79-59 victory over Maryland on Monday night in its ACC home opener at Petersen Events Center. His previous best was 15 against Lehigh on Nov. 20.
“He gives us other things,” Dixon said, noting that Johnson also had three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 23 minutes. “I explained this to him, and I think he was in shock, but I think he can help us in other ways even if he doesn't score. ... His energy and how hard he plays is what allows him to get better. I want him to know that he doesn't have to make shots.”
The Panthers (14-1, 2-0) remained undefeated in ACC play while handing the Terrapins (10-6, 2-1) their first league loss. Dixon is 13-0 against ACC teams, not including newcomers Notre Dame and Syracuse. Maryland is one of three teams Pitt will play twice in conference play; the Panthers visit College Park on Jan. 25. Pitt also plays home and away ACC games with Clemson and Syracuse.
“You've got to give Pitt a lot of credit,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I can't believe they're not ranked at 14-1. They're as good as anyone we've played. A terrific team and well coached. ... We won't play many teams better than this. This is a heck of a basketball team.”
One that is even better when Johnson, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore swingman, has a hot hand. He made 6 of 8 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 3-pointers. After playing only eight minutes at N.C. State because of illness, Johnson scored 10 points in the first half, including seven in an 11-4 run to finish the half, as Pitt built a 36-30 advantage.
That, along with his defense, earned Johnson a second-half start in place of freshman power forward Michael Young. Johnson promptly scored on a driving layup 16 seconds in, then hit a 3-pointer from the left wing at 17:17. It marked the sixth game in which Johnson made two or more 3s. After shooting 38 percent (25 of 66) from 3-point range last season, he was making only 30.5 percent (18 of 59) this season and hadn't made a trey in four of his last five games.
“As a shooter, it's just confidence,” Johnson said. “You always have to know that the next shot is going in no matter if you miss. My teammates found me, and I was able to make shots.”
Johnson's 3-point shooting became contagious. Pitt went 6 of 10 from beyond the arc — and 52.7 percent overall (29 of 55) — after going 1 of 10 against Albany on Dec. 31 and 4 of 12 at N.C. State on Saturday.
Freshman Josh Newkirk made a pair of 3-pointers, including one at 13:39 of the second half that capped a 15-7 run and gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead, 55-44. Lamar Patterson also made a 3 in scoring a game-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
Maryland got four 3-pointers each from Seth Allen, who came off the bench to score 18 points, and Evan Smotrycz (14 points), but the Terrapins didn't have an answer for the Panthers.
“It's a different guy every night for them, and they're really deep,” Turgeon said.
“When you've got Durand Johnson going 6 for 8 and Newkirk going 3 for 4, it's pretty nice in the first ACC home game for guys like that to step up.”