FORT MYERS, Fla. — Throughout much of its game against Kansas State in the RocketMortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off on Monday, Pitt struggled shooting from outside and turned the ball over a too frequently against a ball-hungry Wildcats defense.
Point guard Xavier Johnson was at the forefront of the latter issue, turning the ball over eight times in the second half.
But when Pitt needed him most, Johnson came through.
The sophomore guard drove and put an off-balance shot attempt off the glass and in with 10 seconds to play to give Pitt the lead, then drew an offensive foul and made a pair of free throws to nearly singlehandedly swing the game in favor of the Panthers for a 63-59 victory.
Johnson finished with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting and had six rebounds, fouling out in the final moments of the game. He finished with just one assist combined to eight turnovers.
The Panthers finished 1 of 16 from beyond the 3-point arc, but got significant contributions on the interior.
Eric Hamilton and Terrell Brown played alongside one another in the post for the first extended run on the season, and Hamilton built on his strong game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff last week. He scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Pitt in both categories, his first double-double with the Panthers. Brown had eight points.
After being hobbled early by an ankle injury, Justin Champagnie finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
The Panthers will await the winner of Northwestern and Bradley in Wednesday’s final.