Seldom-used freshman Johnson provides '3' dimension for Pitt

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When it comes to letting shots fly, Pitt freshman Durand Johnson does not have a conscience, separating him from his teammates -- all of whom can be described as more discriminatory in their shot selection.

A 6-foot-6 small forward, Johnson has little problem pulling the trigger on shot attempts whether he is making them or missing. On Sunday, he was making them and helped the Panthers pull out an overtime victory against Villanova.

Johnson was 3 for 3 from 3-point range and made all of his shots in the final 12:05 of regulation, inching the Panthers closer with each successful basket. Johnson finished with nine points in 16 minutes, the most action he has seen in the past eight games.

"I always felt good about my game," Johnson said. "I tried to stay focused and keep myself positive. Whenever I get out there, just make the best of it, knowing I'm on the short string. Every minute I get, I cherish it and try to do what I can do."

Johnson has played almost exclusively as the backup small forward behind Lamar Patterson all season. His minutes have been limited as a result, because Patterson has been one of coach Jamie Dixon's best players.

The past two days in practice, Dixon has tried a lineup with Patterson at small forward and Johnson at shooting guard. That does not mean Dixon will use Johnson at shooting guard in the regular-season finale Saturday at DePaul, or in the postseason, but it could be a way to get him more minutes if the Panthers need his outside shooting.

Trey Zeigler, usually the first guard off the bench, is mired in a 4-for-20 shooting slump over the past seven games.

"I don't know if that's the way it's going to be, but I guess he was just trying a new look," Johnson said.

By now, Johnson is used to dealing with scattered minutes. There have been games he played five minutes or fewer, and others when he was called on to play 15 or 20 minutes.

"If you're making shots and defending, you'll play," Johnson said. "Or sometimes, [Dixon] makes a decision and feels some type of way about a player and you're either going to play or not. It's his call at the end of the day."

Johnson's 3-point shooting brings an added dimension to the offense. After making 6 of 19 (31.5 percent) in non-conference play, he has made 16 of 39 (41 percent) in Big East games. He is now tied with senior guard Tray Woodall for the highest 3-point percentage on the team (37.9).

Three-point shooting has not been a big part of Pitt's offensive arsenal this season, but the Panthers were 7 for 17 from behind the arc against Villanova and brought their season 3-point percentage to .353. That ranks fifth in the Big East and would be among the top 100 in Division I if the Panthers qualified for the official NCAA statistics in that category. The Panthers average 4.9 3-pointers per game and the minimum number of made 3-pointers per game to qualify is five.

Only Notre Dame (.373), Seton Hall (.367), Georgetown (.357) and Rutgers (.355) shoot a higher percentage in the conference. Yet when it comes to attempts per game, only Rutgers and St. John's attempt fewer 3-pointers in the conference. (Pitt averages 13.9 3-point attempts per game and Rutgers and St. John's attempt 13.5.)

One can make a strong argument the Panthers should shoot more 3-pointers, but the man who matters most is not doing that.

Dixon is pleased with his team's shot selection.

"I think we're taking the right shots," Dixon said. "We're taking good shots from 3. I never thought we'd be a team that shot a lot of 3s. We have some guys who haven't shot as well as they can and we're looking forward to them improving."

If Johnson is used more, it is not likely to drastically change the offense. In most cases, Dixon sets a limit on 3-point attempts per game for his team, and the 3-point shooting success against Villanova did not change his mind.

After Johnson and Woodall, Patterson shoots the next highest percentage (.357). There is a steep drop-off after that, with James Robinson shooting 31.8 percent and J.J. Moore at 29.7 percent. Cameron Wright is shooting 50 percent but has only attempted eight 3-pointers all season.

"With this team, anytime we get to 20, that's too many," Dixon said. "It's hard to believe you'll get 20 good looks at 3s."

NOTES -- Freshman center Steven Adams, who missed the Villanova game with an ankle injury, practiced Thursday and is expected to play against DePaul. "Based on what we saw, he'll be able to play," Dixon said. "There's soreness. He's not where he needs to be. I tried to pull him out of practice, but he wanted to go. But he is limping." ... Backup center Dante Taylor (illness) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday ... Freshman point guard James Robinson injured a thumb Thursday at practice.

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published March 8, 2013 5:00 AM


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