As a team sitting at .500 it was anyone’s guess as to which Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2, 1-0) team was going to show up on Monday night. Would it be the one that closed out the Florida State Seminoles to open the season, or the one that hung with the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first half last Friday? Of course, there was always the possibility that it would the team that couldn’t contain the Nicholls State Colonels, or looked out of sorts in the second half last Friday.
Fortunately for the Monmouth Hawks (1-4), it was the latter Pitt team at the start of the contest as they came out completely flat. Riddled by careless turnovers and just generally going through the motions, the Panthers allowed Monmouth to take a 6-2 lead going into the first media timeout and didn't score a single point going into the next media timeout.
Even at home that tends to happen if you start the game 1-9 from the field (0-6 from long distance) and commit eight turnovers. Things didn’t get much better from there, as Pitt racked up another four turnovers and made just two of their next 10 shots. That allowed the Hawks to maintain a 16-15 advantage going into the last media timeout of the half. Had they not committed 12 turnovers of their own at the point, they would have led by a lot more.
“It wasn’t pretty, actually it was ugly”, was head coach Jeff Capel’s comment about the first half.
While it seemed neither team especially cared to take a lead into the half, the Panthers came out on top 21-19 at the break thanks to sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney simply playing hard for about a two-minute span to close the half.
You’d think a half like that would inspire Pitt to come out of the locker room with tons of energy. Instead, they countered with a steady dose of whatever first half funk they were in to start the half. But after a poor first possession, sophomore guard Xavier Johnson realized he was the most talented player on the court. He either scored or assisted on every made basket by the Panthers for the first 10 minutes, which resulted in his team taking a 41-34 lead.
Johnson on his second half performance and breaking out on his slump in the first half, “I’m in a deep struggle still, but I am trying to break out of it.”
His second half dominance didn’t stop there as he kept a relentless assault on the rim as Pitt slowly pulled away from Monmouth. The rest of the Panthers followed suit as they eventually pulled away from the Hawks and mostly coasted to a 63-50 victory.
Sophomore guard Trey McGowens led the team with 16 points, Johnson finished with 15 points and nine assists. Freshman forward Justin Champagnie earned his first start and recored his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Toney added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Johnson and Toney both stated in the post game press conference that they are looking forward to the short turn around and their game against the Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions (0-3) on Thursday.