PITTSBURGH — After Pitt’s disheartening loss to Wake Forest at home just a week ago, questions arose about the togetherness, trust, and confidence in the players who suit up for coach Jeff Capel.
Four days later, his team fought back from a halftime deficit to knock off North Carolina in Chapel Hill by eight points to capture their first conference road win since 2017 and first win ever on UNC’s home floor. That second half displayed confidence and the looks of a group that believed in one another.
Sophomore guard Trey McGowens is at the top of the list alongside Xavier Johnson when it comes to leading this squad on the court. McGowens had a season-high eight assists in Pitt’s win over UNC. Against the Demon Deacons, he ended the game with just two assists and two turnovers. For the young backcourt that carries the Panthers, there is a fine line between finding the balance in forcing things and playing with the aggression that makes them unique.
“The biggest thing that we had was trust,” Johnson said after practice on Friday. “I told everybody before we came out (in the second half against UNC) that we got to trust each other and we’re going to win this game — and that’s what we did.”
It’s not even necessarily about the assist and turnover numbers, rather than just finding the sense of rhythm and energy that brings the best out of everyone on the court.
“I thought (our energy) ignited us, and it connected us,” Capel said. “I thought it started on the defensive end and carried over to the offense.”
“Obviously, when the ball goes through the basket, it gets everyone more excited, but I thought we did a really good job of sharing the ball, finding the open guy, making the extra pass and guys stepped up and made big plays for us.”
Looking ahead, Pitt will look to carry over their momentum back on the road when they face Miami on Sunday evening.
With the win against North Carolina and the possibility of catching Miami when they are down (with two consecutive losses in the ACC), Pitt can sense the substantial opportunity ahead of them with the conference in sort of a frenzy.
Florida State, which Pitt handled in their conference opener, has rallied off 13 wins and is undefeated in conference play since falling to the Panthers. Boston College upset a ranked Virginia squad, Louisville has lost three of their last five, and suddenly the ACC is wide open for spots to make a tournament push.
Even though it’s early on, every game in the ACC plays a role in your tournament resume, and Pitt knows just that.
“That gives us a heads up, that we have to be ready to compete every night,” Johnson said about the parity of league play. “We have a chance to make something out of this year.”