CORAL GABLES, Fla. — There wasn’t a whole lot of positive to be taken away from Pitt’s sluggish 66-58 loss to Miami on Sunday night.
Point guard Xavier Johnson had one of his worst games of the season, and was cemented to Pitt’s bench for much of crunch time.
That’s something that hasn’t happened very much since he arrived on campus in advance of Jeff Capel’s first season.
Over the last season and a half, Johnson has played fewer than his 24 minutes against the Hurricanes just four times.
In those games, they haven’t always gotten killed — they actually won three of four, though only two of the game came against major conference opponents — but there hasn’t really been a 1-to-1 replacement for Johnson’s role in the offense as a distributor.
In two of the four games, Johnson was still the team’s leading assist man, even in limited minutes. Malik Ellison had five assists against Central Arkansas in 2018. Pitt somehow beat Kansas State by getting only two assists as a team this past December.
But Sunday’s game was different. With Johnson on the bench, sophomore guard Trey McGowens became the team’s primary ball handler. He was joined in the backcourt by Ryan Murphy, with Justin Champagnie and Au’Diese Toney on the wings and Terrell Brown at forward.
McGowens responded by dishing out seven assists and finished with 18 points of his own. He said that he’s been working on his skills as distributor instead of just being a slashing scorer.
“I just trust my teams and trust that they’ll make the play,” McGowens said. “Just create and try to make plays.”
Having multiple players that can successfully run the offense is essential for Pitt going forward. Whether it’s because of poor play or foul trouble, injury or whatever, Johnson is going to be unavailable at times.
But McGowens admitted that he’s still a work in progress in that role. After Pitt closed to four points in the final minutes of the game, he had a crucial turnover that allowed Miami to extend its lead.
“The turnover that I had kind of killed our momentum,” he said.