Since the turn of the new year, Pitt has gone a disappointing 1-3 in ACC play. But the results haven’t been all bad. The resumption of conference games has seen Pitt guard Trey McGowens reach a new level in terms of production and expand his offensive repertoire by setting up scoring opportunities with more consistency. In addition, Pitt freshman Justin Champagnie has also hit his stride.
Since Jan. 4, when Pitt faced Wake Forest, McGowens has averaged 19.5 points, 5.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 3.8 rebounds per game while making 37.1 percent of his shots from the field. He has also converted on 33.3 percent of his three-point shots and 72.0 percent of his free throws. During that span, Champagnie has also played at a high level, averaging 13.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while making 38.6 percent of his field goals and all 12 of his free throws in 2020.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the tradeoff is that Pitt star Xavier Johnson, while still productive, has regressed since last season, and the frontcourt has not taken a step forward despite the additions of Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and Eric Hamilton. As a result, McGowens and Champagnie have often found themselves with a disproportionate burden to bear on the offensive attack, and that has caused problems for both players this season.
Most notably, McGowens has adopted an aggressive, score-first approach in late-game situations, and that has yielded mixed results. In Pitt’s upset of North Carolina, he slammed down a dunk that gave the Panthers a late four-point lead and demoralized the Tar Heels. That's the best-case scenario. But in Pitt’s loss to Wake Forest, he drove to the basket with time expiring and was swarmed by Demon Deacons, ultimately getting a potential game-tying layup blocked by Wake Forest seven-footer Olivier Sarr and assuring defeat.
For Champagnie, the team’s reliance on his production has led to feast-or-famine results on the offensive end of the court. That has especially been the case with his three-point shooting, which has fluctuated wildly since November but become more reliable in recent weeks. However, it has also been the case with his overall production, as he experienced scoring lulls in November and December.
With that said, McGowens and Champagnie have both been playing as well as they ever have in the early goings of Pitt’s ACC gauntlet, and the stretch of solid contributions actually dates back to Dec. 16, or seven games ago, for both players. Since then, Champagnie has shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc, and McGowens has scored in double figures in each game. However, they haven’t gotten consistent support from the likes of Terrell Brown, Eric Hamilton, Xavier Johnson or Ryan Murphy, all of whom have logged multiple single-digit point totals in that span.
Simply put, McGowens and Champagnie can’t win games for Pitt on their own. They need at least one additional contributor playing at or near their level to put the team over the top. In the win over North Carolina, that contributor was Johnson, as he scored 17 points. In the win over Florida State, Pitt got 13 points apiece from Murphy and Brown. Who, if anyone, will step up for Pitt in future matchups remains to be seen, but if no help emerges for the duo of rising stars, Pitt may well end up on the wrong side of .500 again this season.