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Pitt won't pressure 1 player to replace injured Johnson

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 7:39 p.m.
In this photo from Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, teammates help Pitt's Durand Johnson (5) in a game between Pitt and Wake Forest in Pittsburgh. Johnson will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL and meniscus in the game. He is expected to undergo surgery within the next week and to be back in 9 to 12 months.
Pitt's Chris Jones (12) crashes into the Georgia Tech bench as he chases a loose ball in the first half Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — When Jamie Dixon learned Durand Johnson was lost for the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Pitt coach didn't want to put pressure on one player.

Johnson, a redshirt sophomore small forward, tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in the second half Saturday against Wake Forest.

The injury was a setback for Pitt, which returned to the national rankings Monday at No. 21 in the USA Today Coaches poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.

The Panthers played at Georgia Tech at 9 p.m. Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion, and visit No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.

Dixon downplayed the desire for someone to step into Johnson's role as sixth man and 3-point ace, noting that no one needs to change their game.

“The four freshmen are going to be playing more, given the situation,” Dixon said. “They don't have to change what they're doing. What they're doing is fine. They'll be out there longer, for longer periods of time, but no one has to reinvent themselves.”

Redshirt freshman Chris Jones (2.6 points per game) and newcomers Mike Young (6.1), Jamel Artis (4.7) and Josh Newkirk (3.8) should benefit from increased playing time, depending on whether Pitt wants to employ a guard-oriented lineup or go big with more forwards.

“All of the articles will talk about who's got to do this with the scoring, this and that,” Dixon said. “The minutes are going to come to certain guys, and they don't have to change their game or do anything different.”

Dixon is more concerned about whether his freshmen can replace the energy and enthusiasm Johnson brought to the team in practice and to games.

The Pitt coach said he is hoping Johnson's mere presence can have a positive effect on the Panthers.

“Durand is a talker in practice — in a good way,” Dixon said. “He's positive, he brings energy on the bench. Those are the things that I know he's going to continue to do but we need to have on the floor.”

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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