Pitt freshmen Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson made their first appearances in the ACC tournament on Tuesday night, as they faced Boston College at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the duo made a splash, combining for 49 points and leading the Panthers to a surprisingly dominant 80-70 win over the Ky Bowman and the Eagles.
Johnson contributed 23 points, four rebounds, two steals, two assists and one block to the winning effort, and McGowens posted similar figures, chipping in a team-high 26 points, four rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block. Pitt head coach Jeff Capel praised the two freshmen for their outstanding contributions during his postgame press conference.
“These two guys, they’re athletic, they’re fearless, and they can attack and they can put pressure on a defense,” Capel said of the duo. “When we’ve been at our best this year, these two guys have been able to put pressure on the defense and get to the foul line. I thought they were terrific. I thought they dictated the pace, the tempo. I thought they gave us confidence, and I thought that led to other guys stepping up and making big plays.”
While both McGowens and Johnson have made headlines for their individual performances on multiple occasions this season, Tuesday night was something special, as it was the first time both McGowens and Johnson scored 20-plus points on the same night since Pitt’s 89-86 upset win over Louisville at the Petersen Events Center on Jan. 9. And as such, the win over Boston College provided a glimpse into what Pitt might become once McGowens gains consistency.
McGowens has been the difference in each of Pitt’s four wins over conference opponents this season, as he provides Johnson, a paragon of stability, with a vital complementary offensive presence. However, the problem for the Panthers is that one can count on one hand how many times he has put on the kind of performances the team needs from him.
Johnson, while consistent, has yet to put the team on his back and carry it to a win against an ACC team. He came close on three occasions, as he put up 25 points against NC State on Jan. 12, 30 points against Clemson on Jan. 29 and 23 points against Wake Forest on Feb. 5. However, Pitt fell short in each instance, as Johnson had little help from McGowens.
Simply put, McGowens and Johnson are the only two players on Pitt’s current roster that have proven capable of taking over a game and willing the Panthers to a win. And as Capel alluded to in his postgame comments, their confidence is contagious, and it rubbed off on Kene Chukwuka, Malik Ellison and Jared Wilson-Frame on Tuesday, helping the cause.
McGowens and Johnson will try to replicate their success against Syracuse on Wednesday night, when the Panthers face the Orange in the second round of the ACC tournament.