Pitt swingman Johnson cherishes his role

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

Durand Johnson knows playing time can be precious at Pitt, so he's intent on making the most of his minutes.

The 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman swingman doesn't hesitate to fill his role, which consists of filling the basket with 3-point shots.

Johnson is tied with Tray Woodall for the team lead in 3-point percentage (.379) this season but leads the team in Big East play (.410).

“I just try to stay focused mentally, just keep positive and don't get down on myself and, whenever I get out there, make the best of it,” said Johnson, who is averaging 4.8 points in 12.2 minutes in Big East games.

“Knowing I'm on a short string, so every minute I get I just cherish it and just do what I can do in a short time.”

Johnson sparked a stagnant offense Sunday by sinking three treys against Villanova. He is hoping to show his improvement in other areas when the No. 23 Panthers (23-7, 11-6) play at DePaul (11-19, 2-15) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Allstate Arena.

Johnson's ballhandling deficiencies were exposed against DePaul. He had a season-worst six turnovers in a 93-55 victory Jan. 26.

“I definitely want to get back at DePaul,” said Johnson, a cousin of Cleveland Melvin, the Blue Demons' second-leading scorer at 16.5 points a game. “I had a rough game with turnovers against them. I look forward to playing against them Saturday and showing that I'm not the player I used to be.”

More important, Johnson wants to show Pitt coach Jamie Dixon he has worked on a weakness. After playing 18 minutes against DePaul, Johnson averaged 8.4 over the next seven games, including only two at Louisville.

“If you're in a game and you're making shots and defending, you're going to play,” Johnson said. “Coach Dixon, sometimes he makes a decision if he feels some type of way about a certain player. You have your days where you're going to play or you're not. It's his call.”

Dixon stressed the importance of practicing patience on offense against the Blue Demons' full-court pressure.

“This game is going to be a challenge because what they want, at times, is for you to take contested 3s at the end of the press,” Dixon said. “That's something we don't want to do. Hopefully, we can get a layup or a mid-range jump shot or penetration to get a wide-open 3.”

Johnson has no issues knocking down the wide-open 3s.

“The biggest thing Durand has going for himself is he's very confident in his ability,” Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight said.

“He just has a swagger and confidence about himself. I think he's kind of settled in and understands his role and comes in and gives us good minutes when we really need it.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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