PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s Xavier Johnson shot 6-of-18 from the field in the Panthers’ 62-57 win at home against Miami on Sunday. Half of those six makes came within the final minutes of the game.
Miami’s zone defense in the second half caused for overthinking and a sense of hesitation from the Panthers as a whole, as they shot under 30% in the second half, after making 46.4% of their shots in the first 20-minutes.
“There was just conviction,” head coach Jeff Capel said of his team in the final three minutes. “There wasn’t hesitation. I think that’s the main thing: there wasn’t hesitation. It’s our shot. And when you have it, shoot it. That’s what they did, and fortunately, they went in.”
Johnson was the main culprit in the sense of feeling more confident when the game got tight.
That sense didn’t come until after the sophomore point guard double-clutched on a mid-range jumper, that resulted in an air-ball with just 2:53 remaining and Hurricanes following the miss up with a basket of their own on the following possession, to give them a lead.
“After that shot (above), Coach told me to shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “He yelled at me. I said, ‘Alright coach.'”
Johnson took that advice from Jeff Capel and bounced back quickly. After the Miami took the lead the next possession, Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound and stepped right into a 3-point jump shot at the top of the key with confidence that resulted in a swish.
“Next thing you know (following Capel getting on him), I just made it (the next shot),” Johnson said. “That just gave me confidence.”
Pitt’s leader wasn’t done, though. Miami cut the Panthers’ lead to one point once again after a set of free throws from DJ Vasiljevic. But then Johnson eyed up yet another jumper, and let it fly with conviction. It resulted in another swish.
Miami wasn’t done. Guard Harold Beverly darted to the middle of the lane and finished a layup to make the score 56-55.
But it was Johnson’s turn again. He maneuvered the Hurricanes 2-3 zone and finished with his dominant right-hand with contact from the defenders.
“I know I didn’t shoot a hot ball today,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the game, coach (Capel) gave me confidence, (and) my teammates gave me confidence. Whenever we are playing good, they just keep me up at a high level.”
At this point, Pitt was set up to grab a crucial ACC win in a game they didn’t nearly play as well as they’d like to. Johnson finished the game with 13 points, seven of them coming in the final 2:25.
It was the 15th time this season that Johnson has scored in double-digits. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 5.2 assists per game.
“We did some really good things in the final three minutes,” Capel said. “I’m so proud of how we stepped up and made some plays. Xavier (Johnson) made some big-time plays down the stretch.”
This might have been a game that Pitt would have collapsed in the last few seasons. But they are a year older, with guys like Johnson, who aren’t as fazed in the big moments.
Pitt’s ‘big three,’ Johnson, McGowens, and Au’Diese Toney were asked after the game if they see the program heading in the right direction at this current moment, with them being the leaders of the team and have some real experience under their belt.
They all three nodded in agreement, and Johnson said:
“We just got to keep on growing, though. (We’re) going to keep on getting better every day, and keep on working.”