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Pitt

Undefeated Pitt routs Central Arkansas, quickly shifts focus to next game

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, 9:06 p.m.
Pitt’s Xavier Johnson looks to pass around Central Arkansas’s SK Shittu during the first half Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
Pitt’s Xavier Johnson looks to pass around Central Arkansas’s SK Shittu during the first half Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
Pitt’s Malik Ellison (left) and Central Arkansas’s Thatch Unruh (top) battle for the ball over Central Arkansas’ DeAndre Jones (55) during the first half Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
Pitt’s Malik Ellison (left) and Central Arkansas’s Thatch Unruh (top) battle for the ball over Central Arkansas’ DeAndre Jones (55) during the first half Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

Pitt coach Jeff Capel allowed himself a moment Thursday night to feel good about his team’s fourth consecutive victory — a 97-71 rout of Central Arkansas.

But that was it — a moment — because the challenges are racing at Pitt faster than point guard Xavier Johnson leading the transition game.

Only 39 hours after the crowd of 2,578 started leaving Petersen Events Center, Pitt will be back on the hardwood Saturday for a noon tipoff against North Alabama.

Capel said he purposely crafted the nonconference schedule this way to prepare his team for the ACC gauntlet that will include a January trip to N.C. State and a home game against Florida State two days later. The North Alabama game will be Pitt’s fifth in 12 days to start the season.

“We need to move past this immediately,” he said.

But there still was plenty to savor.

Starting with freshman guard Trey McGowens’ dunk in the second half where he launched himself toward the basket from a spot no more than a step beyond the foul line.

“When I saw (the Central Arkansas defender) on his heels backpedaling, I had to take advantage of it,” McGowens said.

Senior Jared Wilson-Frame saw it coming.

“We see him do that all the time (in practice),” he said. “If you watch the (video), the whole team jumped with him. We knew what was going on.”

McGowens scored 11 points, but he was only one of five Pitt players to reach double digits.

Wilson-Frame scored 20, giving him at least that many points in all three of his games. He hit four of eight 3-point shots coming off the bench, making him 15 of 26 (55.5 percent) for the season.

“He’s a guy who can put up points,” Capel said, “but more than anything, he’s a guy who can create plays. There is a lot more to his game than he has shown. He has a really good feel, and he can pass.”

Capel didn’t mention Wilson-Frame’s three-game stat totals, but the important ones — aside from his points — are his eight assists, with zero turnovers in 79 minutes.

Yet, it was another team effort for Pitt, with freshman Au’Diese Toney adding a personal high 15 points, Malik Ellison 13 and Johnson 12. The Panthers also forced Central Arkansas into 23 turnovers.

Johnson missed most of the first half with foul trouble, but he recorded four rebounds, three assists and a steal in only 17 minutes.

“That little point guard, he’s tremendous,” Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said. “He’s going to have a nice career here.”

It must be noted Central Arkansas left town with a 35-91 record in Pennell’s five seasons and a roster that has nine freshmen and sophomores.

That didn’t water down Toney’s enthusiasm for the game, his third with at least 12 points.

Pitt regularly attacked the basket, drawing 27 fouls and hitting 26 of 35 free throws. Toney was six of seven.

“If you attack and go in hard, you are going to draw fouls,” he said.

His teammates call him a “junkyard dog,” and Toney is proud of the attitude he brings to the game and practices.

“I fiend (crave) for blood like a dog,” he said when asked to describe his attitude. “Like a dog in a fight. If he fiends for blood, he’s going to keep going for it and that’s how I am.

“When I see someone on the court who does not have ‘Pitt’ across their chest, I am fiending for them. That is how I approach the game.”

Actually, Pitt could have used more desperation on defense as Central Arkansas, who led by nine early in the game, shot 46.4 percent. Pitt opponents had been shooting 31.7.

“We have to do a better job of that,” Wilson-Frame said of his team’s defense. “We can’t be allowing teams to shoot this well against us, especially if we are going to show regularly we can make teams shoot a lesser percentage.

“That’s something we have to keep as a standard of our program.”

Get the latest news about Pitt basketball and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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