PITTSBURGH — In just ten days, Jeff Capel’s Pitt squad has beaten a Roy Williams-led North Carolina squad two separate times.
The Tar Heels are missing their best player in Cole Anthony, but it’s still an impressive feat, to say the least, given the Panthers’ struggles in conference play over the past few seasons.
In the first meeting against Carolina, Pitt got two key performances from sophomore Trey McGowens (24 points) and freshman Justin Champagnie (22). On Saturday, McGowens and Champagnie were 3-for-18 from the field and scored just 10 points.
But that was OK.
The Panthers relied on sophomore Xavier Johnson and junior Ryan Murphy. Johnson finished with a game-high 20 points and six assists while Murphy added 14 and made all three of his 3s in the first half to bolster Pitt’s 20-point lead at the break.
Perhaps the most significant difference between this Pitt team and the team a year ago is the variety of guys that can score the ball.
“The difference between this year and last year is that we have a lot of scores,” Johnson said. “It’s not just one person that can score. If one person has a bad game, I know someone else will have a good game. That’s the trust you got to have every night.”
That trust that the players have in each other is something that a relatively young and new team has to work at, especially for when games get tight.
But put the scoring aside, Capel is still stressing that it’s essential for the team as a whole to play with the same sense of urgency, regardless if one person is having a tough night in the scoring department.
“Everyone on this team, at some point this year, has shown what they’re capable of doing at a high level,” Capel said. “In order for us to become the best team that we can be, we need everyone to be the best version of themselves, and for them to hold each other accountable for that.”
Capel knows that for his program to take off, it takes a collective effort for 40 minutes each night. Even though Pitt’s defense has taken most of the limelight early on this season, the offense has shown good spurts.
On Saturday against Carolina, Capel’s team had one of those good offensive spurts for almost the entirety of the first half
“We were selfless,” Capel added. “I thought the ball was just moving in the first half. It was crisp, and we really shared it.”
The main reason for the offensive flow was the play of Johnson.
“I thought (Johnson) was terrific,” Capel said. “I thought he created shots for others, which led to shots for himself, plays for himself. He was able to get in the paint; he was able to get downhill, and I thought he made terrific decisions.”
Murphy’s offensive game also impressed his coach — besides a 3-point attempt at the end of the game, that Capel referred to as “God awful.”
The guard, who is known for his long-range shooting, hit a few mid-range jumpers and also penetrated the lane and created opportunities for others. Pitt had only five turnovers throughout the first 30-plus minutes on Saturday (before finishing with nine).
Those others who benefitted from the playmaking abilities of Johnson and Murphy were the likes of Terrell Brown and Au’Diese Toney. They gave the Panthers 18 combined points, and Pitt outscored UNC 22-7 in bench points.