The Pitt men’s basketball team played its first of three exhibition games Thursday afternoon in Rome’s Fonte Roma Eur gym, facing the Netherlands National B Team and handing the Oranje a 60-55 defeat.
As the scoreline suggests, the game was not a wire-to-wire success but a close affair that was decided in the fourth quarter. In fact, after a promising start, Pitt found itself down 24-23 at the half, and as usual, Panthers point guard Xavier Johnson led all scorers with nine points.
However, the Panthers showed some fight and some promise by reclaiming the lead in the fourth quarter. That lead was furnished by recent New Mexico Junior College transfer Ryan Murphy. The native of Calabasas, California, knocked down two consecutive three-point shots to put Pitt up 50-46. His two shots would prompt a Dutch timeout.
”I just let it go,” Murphy said of his go-ahead triple in a postgame interview. “Xavier Johnson trusts me, and he found me on the fast break. I just did my job and made the shot.”
After Murphy’s momentum-shifting shots, Johnson and Au’Diese Toney piled on by converting on several jumpers of their own. Pitt would not relinquish the lead and would notch its first overseas win in five years. However, while the Panthers put on an impressive shooting display and rebounded well, the team also coughed up 20 turnovers in a sloppy matchup that saw the Dutch give up 17.
”There were plenty of good things that happened, but there were some things we need to tighten up,” Pitt associate head coach Tim O’Toole said in an interview. “We’ve got to take care of the ball a little better. But hey, [only] giving up 55 points on the road to an experienced group with a bunch of young guys? We’re kind of pleased with that.”
All told, Johnson was the team’s leading scorer, with 20 points, and his efforts were complemented by Murphy, who added 13 and made four of his eight three-pointers. Murphy also led the team in rebounds, with six, and Johnson posted a game-high three assists despite some turnover issues.
Pitt is scheduled to take the court in Italy again on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. In that exhibition, the Panthers will face the Florence All-Stars.