[ Pittsburgh PA ] Pitt’s vaunted freshman trio lit up the scoreboard as the Panthers secured a dominant home win over New Orleans on Thursday evening at the Petersen Events Center, 99-57.
“Really proud of my guys.” Said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “I thought that this was one of our better performances from start to finish. As a coach, I was really worried about this game. I think that any coach in this situation, you’re worried about your guys already going home for Christmas. These are sometimes the most difficult games because you’re done with exams, everyone is home. You know that after the game is over with you’ll have a chance to have a break and so sometimes, mentally, you can check out and already be home. I thought that our guys did a great job of not doing that. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence.”
All three Pitt rookies topped 20 points. Trey McGowens scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Panthers (9-3), Xavier Johnson added 21 and Au’Diese Toney tallied a career-best 20 points with eight rebounds as the Privateers (5-5) were unable to cope with Pitt’s explosive freshmen, who combined for a Pitt freshman record 65 points.
“They’ve showed me glimpses. They’ve all played well, but they’re freshmen.” Said Capel. “They’ve been up and down. They’ve had moments where they look really good and they’ve had other moments where they look like freshmen. Tonight was a night where they all looked pretty good. One of the things with the freshmen that you hope to get is consistency, and that’s what we’re trying to get from all of them.”
The 99 points scored by the Panthers marked the most tallied by the team under first-year head coach Jeff Capel, while the 42-point margin of victory was also the largest of the season for Pitt. In earning its ninth victory of the season, Pitt now has more wins than it had in all of 2017-18.
Senior Jared Wilson-Frame earned his first start of the season and provided seven point and six rebounds. Coming off the bench, Malik Ellison added nine points, four boards and four assists.
The Panthers dominated the specialty stats, outscoring New Orleans in the paint (50-36), points off turnovers (32-6), via fast break (22-2), off the bench (23-17) and on second-chance scoring (17-12). Pitt outrebounded the Privateers by a lopsided 40-21 margin, with Khameron Davis and Kene Chukwuka both grabbing six rebounds.
Pitt also had one of its best free-throw performances in program history, tying the school record for a game with 20+ free throws with 22 makes on 23 attempts (95.7%). The freshmen converted 21 of those makes.
“I’m pleased with that tonight and I think that we’ve done a good job of trying to take charges all year.” Said Capel. “Our free throws have been up and down – we’ve been inconsistent. We were very good tonight. The little things are huge for us and we’re trying to master them. I told the guys late in the game that there is no such thing as minutes that aren’t important. Don’t play the
score, we’re trying to build habits. That’s something that we don’t have yet and what we’re trying to build are championship habits because that’s what we all came here to do and we have to understand that in order to do that, it has to be every day.”
The game was the 300th played at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The Panthers own a 247-53 record in the building, which opened in 2002.
Pitt played its first game without senior Sidy N’Dir, who will miss four to six weeks with a right leg injury. Davis saw increased playing time in his absence, finishing with seven points in 15 minutes. Pitt will wrap up its non-conference schedule by hosting Colgate on Dec. 29.
“I thought that we dominated the glass.” Said Capel. “I thought that we did a good job of valuing the basketball, we were able to force them into 20-plus turnovers. So again, really proud of our team. We get a good break right now and have a chance to come back and get better.”
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