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Xavier Johnson puts on show in Pitt win over Rutgers

The Panthers guard led the team with 20 points and eight assists

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt hosted Rutgers at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchup, and the Panthers prevailed over the Scarlet Knights, notching a 71-60 win. Pitt guard Xavier Johnson was the team’s top contributor on offense, as he amassed 20 points and eight assists on the night, both of which were game-high figures. He also put together a highlight reel of jaw-dropping plays in a span of about two hours.

The Woodbridge, Virginia, native provided one of the most electric plays of the night after Pitt’s Trey McGowens stole the ball off of Rutgers guard Ron Harper Jr. and set him up with a breakaway dunk. That play came early in the second half and put Pitt up 43-39 on Rutgers. It was the second basket in an 11-0 run for the Panthers after they had allowed the Knights to briefly even the score at 39.

Johnson’s most memorable play of the night was a quick but simple crossover that left Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell sprawled out on the floor. The cross came with just over four and a half minutes left in the second half and opened Johnson up for an easy shot that he drained, bringing the crowd to its feet. It represented rock bottom on a bad night for McConnell, who went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting, and the peak of Johnson’s evening.

However, while the crossover and shot by X marked the moment of the night for many, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said after the game he wasn’t pleased with its aftermath.

”Right after that play, I thought we admired it a little too much,” Capel said. “We go down and give up penetration and they get a corner three. It was a big-time move, a big-time play. We should expect it, though, and move on to the next play and go down and finish it. It certainly gets the crowd into it. The crowd was excited. But I think it would have been a great play if we could’ve gone down and gotten the stop.”

While Capel raised a good point that echoed many of the “act like you’ve been there before” sentiments espoused over time by his longtime mentor Mike Krzyzewski, the basket Johnson scored gave Pitt a 62-49 lead on Rutgers late in the game, and the subsequent three only brought the Scarlet Knights within 10. And although the frustrated Rutgers team would show some fight late in the game, it ultimately fell by an 11-point deficit.

In addition to the stellar play of Johnson, Pitt also benefited from big performances by Trey McGowens, Ryan Murphy and Au’Diese Toney, all of whom scored in double digits and two of whom shot better than 50 percent from the field on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Pitt bigs Eric Hamilton and Terrell Brown combined for 10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks to complement the team’s top-notch guard play.