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Pittsburgh Pa- Xavier Johnson scored 13 second-half points to lead Pittsburgh through a slow first half and over Monmouth, 63-50 on Monday night.
Pitt (3-2) was stifled early by the visiting Hawks and their own poor shooting in the opening 20 minutes of play. The Panthers made just ON of their first nine field goals and three of their first 17.
“I am proud of our guys, especially how we responded in the second half.” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said “The first half was another 20 minutes of carryover from the last game. It wasn’t pretty. It was actually ugly, but I thought we continued to defend. Somehow we had a lead at the half, and I thought we did some really good things in the second half. We are a team that is struggling with confidence. Stuff for us is different this year, and the guys are having to get adjusted.”
During the opening 10 minutes, head coach Jeff Capel momentarily benched Johnson, Pitt’s sophomore starting point guard, for walk-on Onyebuchi Ezeakudo. If Capel was looking for a quick spark, he didn’t get it, as only a 10-for-10 mark at the charity stripe prevented the Panthers from trailing going into the break.
But in the second half, Johnson came alive.
He scored nine points in the first six minutes of the second period and kept on leading the Panthers, finishing with 15 points and nine of Pitt’s 13 assists. Monmouth (1-4) found outside success from guard Ray Salnave, who had 10 points and was 2 for 5 from 3-point range, and inside with forward Mustapha Traore, who was 5 of 10 from the floor for 12 points.
“No one on this team had the pressure of outside expectations last year, nobody. And again, because of how we finished up last year, there was hope.” Said Capel “And then you have guys coming back and there’s all these different things, and so there are expectations coming into the season. And then we win the first game, and maybe those expectations increase. Maybe the way we think about ourselves increases. And then, we are hit with a big dose of reality right away. I just think we are a team struggling with confidence and we are still really young. I don’t use that as an excuse, but it’s a fact. We have a lot of work to do, and I’m excited. I hope people are excited. I hope our guys are excited.”
For Monmouth, the light is at the end of the tunnel. The Hawks began the 2019-20 season by playing five consecutive true road games. They’ll now play a pair of neutral-site matchups before finally starting the home portion of their schedule on Nov. 26.
After starting the season with a win over Lehigh, the scheduled has toughened, as well. The loss to Pitt was the Hawks’ fourth straight, three of which came on the home floors of high-major opponents.
Under Capel, Pitt has often relied on an ability to get to the free-throw line. Pitt attempted 26 free throws to Monmouth’s eight. But that ability has only showed itself in fits and spurts as the Panthers stumbled to a 2-2 record in their first four games of the season.
Monmouth: Is scheduled to participate in the MAAC-ASun Challenge for two games in Orlando, Florida, starting with Kennesaw State on Friday.
Pitt: Will continue the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off with another home game against Arkansas- Pine Bluff on Thursday.
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