Pitt completed its first regular-season sweep of North Carolina on Saturday with a 66-52 win at the Petersen Events Center, and the result was due in part to the outstanding play of Pitt point guard Xavier Johnson, who had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in the ACC contest.
Johnson led all scorers in the matchup with the Tar Heels and was productive from beyond the arc, as he went 2-for-5 on three-point shots. However, the key to his success was drawing contact and getting to the foul line, as he took 12 shots from the charity stripe and made 10.
The point guard’s assist total was also a game-high, and it got the team’s secondary scorers like Ryan Murphy and Terrell Brown involved in the offensive effort. That proved vital, as Murphy finished second in scoring on the team, with 13 points, while Brown posted nine points, including seven in the second half. Murphy notably went 3-for-8 from distance, and two of his made threes were assisted by Johnson.
As for Johnson himself, the game was a return to form for him, as he seemed shaky in his role as a team leader in Pitt’s conference games against Wake Forest and Miami, ultimately getting benched for a significant portion of the latter matchup due to turnovers and early fouls. Those were not an issue on Saturday, though, as a more disciplined Johnson was whistled just once and only had two turnovers — his lowest total since Dec. 16.
The discipline Johnson and the majority of the team showed in terms of not turning the ball over made a significant difference in the game, as three of North Carolina’s five starters had three turnovers, as did one bench player. Johnson's ability to stay out of foul trouble also benefited the team, as he was Pitt’s only starter without multiple fouls.
Now, if Johnson can remain productive and disciplined and Pitt can get more consistent scoring out of the likes of Champagnie, McGowens and Murphy, the team could turn a corner in conference play and perhaps contend with teams in the higher tiers of the ACC.