PITTSBURGH — Of Pitt’s three freshmen in the 2018 class, 6-foot-3 shooting guard Trey McGowens was the highest rated.
A consensus four-star prospect, McGowens was the No. 95 player in the country, according to 247 Sports, while classmates Au’Diese Toney (118) and Xavier Johnson (232) lagged behind.
But through the non-conference portion of Pitt’s schedule, Johnson had been the most productive of the bunch, averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range and pacing the Panthers with 77 assists.
Wednesday, McGowens showed a glimpse of his full capabilities.
He shot 12 of 19, scored a Pitt-freshman-record 33 points, grabbed six rebounds and had three steals to lead the Panthers past the Cardinals for their first ACC win in 21 tries.
“I thought that McGowens was incredible,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said after the game.
That’s an understatement. Think of every talented scorer Pitt has ever had as a freshman, from Sean Miller to Brandin Knight and DeJuan Blair, and none of them ever came close to putting up that kind of performance on that kind of stage.
Pitt’s freshman scoring record was set in 1980 by Clyde Vaughan with 29 points against James Madison. Ricardo Greer got close, scoring 26 points against an under-.500 Providence team in 1998. Charles Smith’s 26 against Boston College in 1986 is probably the closest approximation.
But it wasn’t just the stage and the opponent. McGowens was forced into a larger-than-usual role because Johnson was in foul trouble, with three personals in the first half, and seemed to thrive with the pressure on.
“It felt great,” he said. “My teammates believed in me. Coach Capel believed in me, running the one while X was out.”
McGowens has scored 90 points over Pitt’s last four games, a 22.5-points-per-game average, along with 18 rebounds and 13 steals. He’s 7 of 14 from beyond the 3-point arc. He attributed the increase in output to an increase in confidence.
“Just coaches, teammates just telling me to attack,” McGowens said. “That’s just confidence and work in the gym, whether it’s with Coach Milan [Brown] or on my own. Shout to Coach Milan, before and after practice for increasing my bag.”
“That’s the culture we want to build, where there’s work and you’re constantly trying to invest in your craft, invest in your game, constantly try to get better and improve things, to correct things” Capel said.
That’s a pretty impressive output for a player that’s only played two ACC games thus far in his career. Furthermore, Capel says McGowens can grow even more.
“He can continue to work on his handles to become a more consistent shooter, to understand the game more to pick your spots, to become a better passer, to be able to think the game an see the game a little bit differently,” Capel said. “He has a very high ceiling in order to grow. The thing I love is that he knows that, he’s not afraid of that, and I think he wants that.”