I am sure there are good reasons for starting a basketball game at 6:00 p.m. I just don’t know what they happen to be.
Thanks to a nightmare of a traffic scenario after work, I missed the first half of this game and was relegated to radio in the car. Why Robert Morris decided to play this game so early when it was the first game in their new building is beyond me. But as I said, I’m sure there are reasons. Plus, based on how things went with a tie game at the half, my untimely delay was probably for the best.
Fortunately, Pitt rebounded for a strong second half to pull away from Robert Morris and avoid another disaster with a 71-57 win.
For the record, I am surprised that it took Pitt a while to get going in this one. Robert Morris, of course, had the hype of playing in their new arena for the first time. Still, after Pitt struggled so badly in the upset loss against Nicholls State, I expected them to come out really focused and have an easier time of things. They ultimately did but that first half sounded like a train wreck.
Pitt got a great game from Trey McGowens, who had 25 points (to go along with eight boards, five assists, and four steals) but Xavier Johnson continues to really struggle. Johnson’s case is kind of interesting. There was a lot of talk in the offseason about him potentially bolting early for the NBA but, given how things have started for him, that looks like a pipe dream at this point. Johnson for his part is doing other things out there. He led the team with seven assists and added six rebounds. He does not look entirely disengaged and is, if nothing else, pretty active out there. But, well, his 1-9 shooting wasn’t good and he’s now 9-30 from the field on the year.
I don’t want to go too far into this because I could have it completely wrong. But Johnson’s body language, to me, often looks all wrong. He doesn’t look necessarily disinterested much but he looks frustrated out there quite a bit. The shooting woes are clearly having their effect on him but, I don’t know. Just something I can’t quite put my finger on and that’s part of the reason I don’t want to elaborate too much. And sometimes, he just looks like he’s focused on his numbers, settling for some pretty bad shots and forcing things.
Case in point, he came down towards the end of the game with a few minutes left. Pitt had a comfortable but not overwhelming lead. He had no teammates with him, got down the court and jacked up a three-pointer when the obvious play there was to pull back, run the clock down, and set up the offense to wait for teammates. It just looked like, at best, a careless play and, at worst, a selfish one.
I do not necessarily think Johnson is a selfish player. I think that, right now, he’s one that is pressing. Trust me, I’m not worried about him. He will be better, though I don’t know what exactly to attribute the early struggles shooting to other than possibly trying too hard to impress. The sooner he gets back to normal, the better. Pitt isn’t good enough offensively to get this little from him. Games like McGowens had tonight probably won’t be had with regularity and Pitt needs another scorer out there. McGowens has proven capable of games like this but not on a consistent basis.
But hey, I can’t complain about tonight. Double-digit road win when the team hasn’t won a road game since 2017? I mean, I’ll take that. This was a game Pitt had to have and they got it. But I’ve still got very real reservations about just what exactly this team can accomplish. I wrote in the preview that a goal of .500 on the season might be the cap and so far, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything yet to suggest that won’t be the case. That could clearly change, though, and I’m hoping it will for my own selfish reasons about wanting to see this team achieve a bit more.