Pitt freshman not shy on, off court

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Four Pitt players sat at the podium inside Petersen Events Center media room late Tuesday night after the victory against Lehigh. There were three starters and one reserve -- redshirt freshman Durand Johnson who was making his first appearance in such a setting after more than a year as a member of the team.

At one point during the postgame news conference, when a question was posed to no one in particular, Johnson stepped up and answered it even though he was seated next to senior captain and leading scorer Tray Woodall.

On the court, Johnson hasn't been shy about stepping in to fill the void for coach Jamie Dixon either.

After not playing in the opener against Mount St. Mary's, Johnson was an effective player off the bench in the past two games against Fordham and Lehigh. Dixon inserted Johnson into the game late in the first half against Lehigh, and he helped spark an 11-5 run to end the half and that sent the Panthers to the locker room with a five-point lead.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Oakland (1-2) vs. Pitt (3-0), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
  • TV, Radio, Internet: Pitt Panthers Television (Comcast Ch. 188 or 210), KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
  • Pitt: Beat Lehigh, 78-53, Tuesday night. ... Has outscored first three opponents by an average of 30.7 points per game. ... Forcing an average of 16.7 turnovers per game. ... Led by senior G Tray Woodall (16.3 ppg, 6.7 apg) and junior F Talib Zanna (16 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
  • Oakland: Has lost two in a row after winning opener against Albion. ... Lost at Louisiana-Lafayette and Boise State. ... Led by junior G Duke Mondy (19.3 ppg 4.0 rpg), junior G Travis Bader (18.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and senior F Drew Valentine (14.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg). ...Coach Greg Kampe is in his 29th season and owns a 491-351 record.
  • Hidden stat: Zanna and freshman center Steven Adams are tied for second on the team in steals with four apiece. Cameron Wright has a team-leading five.

Johnson finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 17 minutes. That performance came one game after making his college debut with eight points and one assist in 10 minutes against Fordham.

"I stayed patient and stayed confident," Johnson said. "I knew my time would come eventually. I tried to stay humble, work hard and wait my turn. It came and now I'm going to try to run with it."

Johnson has been among Dixon's most productive players when broken down into minutes played. Only junior forward Talib Zanna is averaging more points per minute. Johnson has scored 17 points in 27 minutes. He is 6 for 10 from the field and has 3 assists, 2 steals and only 1 turnover.

"The biggest thing is he let things come to him offensively," Dixon said. "He had two assists, no turnovers. He didn't force things. That's the thing we've tried to instill in him. We have too many other guys who can make plays and get other guys shots who are good decision makers. He just needs to play off that. That's what he did. It was great to see him play. He plays really hard. He's very active. He's improved a lot. I think he's going to become a very good player."

Coaches and players alike knew Johnson had natural offensive ability, but his ability to defend had been in question. Thus far, those fears have been put to rest as Johnson has shown an ability to buy into the team defensive concept the coaching staff has been stressing.

"Coach Dixon is big on defense, so I focused on the defensive end and let the offense come to me," Johnson said. "If you're on the floor, you'll get looks on the offensive end. Focusing on defense helped me out a lot. I just relax, take my time and let the game come to me. On the offensive end, Dixon talks about not forcing it. I'm not forcing it, playing my game and waiting for my time to come."

Johnson could turn out to be an important player in the rotation. Dixon has admitted this will not be among his best 3-point shooting teams. Woodall likely is the team's top perimeter threat, but there aren't many other options beyond him and junior Lamar Patterson, who led the team with a 41 percent clip from behind the arc a year ago.

Johnson came to Pitt with the reputation as a strong outside shooter, and he has made 2 of his 3 attempts from behind the 3-point line this season. But he knows he won't be able to win a permanent spot in the rotation unless he continues to contribute in other areas such as defense and rebounding.

"I don't want to be known just as a shooter," he said. "I want to be a guy who plays defense, mixes it up on offense, get guys involved and be an all-around player."

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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