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Pitt defeats Niagara in opener following Durand Johnson suspension

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A little bit good, but a whole lot bad.

That's essentially the way to sum up tonight if you're a Pitt basketball fan. The bad, of course, was Durand Johnson's season-long suspension announced just before the game. It's a big blow to a team already missing its starting shooting guard for the bulk of the non-conference schedule, Cameron Wright, who is recovering from surgery.

If you can somehow look past the fact that the Panthers' season could be drastically altered without Johnson, well, it was a pretty good night.

Pitt defeated Niagara 78-45 in the season opener and, unlike the two exhibition games, the team had little trouble with its opponent. They shot 52% from the field while holding Niagara to 25%. They had a manageable nine turnovers, were +11 on the boards, and converted 7-16 three-point shots.

Several players impressed and Jamel Artis led the way with 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Josh Newkirk and Chris Jones got into double figures, and James Robinson had eight points and seven assists to only one turnover.

The Panthers bench excelled, too, dominating Niagara, 38-5.

The one thing about this Pitt team is, as has been widely discussed in the offseason, that they're extremely deep. Guys like Josh Newkirk and Sheldon Jeter could easily be starters and it will be beneficial to have those guys come in off the bench and see the team not really miss much of a step.

Mike Young had a relatively quiet night after some good exhibition performances with seven points and seven rebounds. He didn't have a terrible game, but didn't come close to posting the 20 points or so that many thought were probably within reach tonight. Other than that, not a ton not to like here. Sure, Joseph Uchebo was non-existent on offense, but that's not a big surprise. The good thing to take away here is that he played a good bit and led the team in rebounds with eight. We'll have to see how he fares against stiffer competition, but it was encouraging to see him, if nothing else, contribute on the glass.

The big surprise of the night for me, though, was seeing true freshman Cam Johnson put up a big night. Johnson had 11 points and was 4-5 from the field, draining a three-pointer as well. It's difficult to take too much away from playing a weak opponent, but if nothing else, Johnson just looked really comfortable out there. This kid just looks smooth and it's really easy to like his game.

Any chance of him redshirting probably went out the window with tonight's performance and the absences of Wright and Durand. He'll get his chance to play and while the competition was questionable, he had a pretty good debut.

Fellow freshman Ryan Luther also could see some time now as well. Luther, though, had a foot injury and missed the game. He's expected to be back for Sunday's game so it will be interesting to see the team's approach with him. A redshirt for him makes all the sense in the world and, even with the losses of Wright/Johnson, to me, it still makes sense to try to get by without playing him.

If you're looking to nitpick, Pitt committed too may fouls. They sent Niagara to the free throw line 29 times while only getting there 14 themselves. But hey, too many positives in this win to think too hard about that.

Overall, the team just looks athletic. Artis looked slimmed down to me and the entire team just seemed to get up and down the court quite a bit. This definitely has the look of a team that will be different than the bullish ones in the past. Whether or not that's a good thing, we'll have to wait and see. But this should be an athletic team that's fun to watch.

Next up for Pitt is Samford on Sunday.

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