Durand Johnson is one of the top reserves at Pitt, and his role off the bench is to provide an offensive spark.
But he often says he brings "energy," and that's what he did Monday night in the Panthers' first Atlantic Coast Conference home game.
Johnson scored a career-high 17 points and was a key cog in the game-changing first-half closing run as Pitt ran away from Maryland for a 79-59 win before a crowd of 12,508 at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (14-1, 2-0 ACC) made three of their first four 3-point attempts and finished 6 of 10 from the 3-point line and were 29 of 55 (53.7 percent) from the field.
The game was close early as the two teams traded leads for the first 16 minutes before the Terrapins went in front, 28-25, on a layup by Seth Allen with 5:14 to play in the half.
Then, Lamar Patterson, who finished with a game-high 19 points and had five rebounds, drove the lane with 4:24 to play, sparking an 11-2 run to close the half, and Pitt took a 36-30 into the locker room.
Patterson, however, credited Johnson's defense and energy with being the catalyst for that run and said that is what they expect from him when he checks in the game.
"I think we just play hard, especially on the defensive end," Johnson said. "We made that run and got it going. When I'm coming in off the bench, I try to play hard and bring energy. They look at me as being the energy guy. I just want to be that guy who wants to bring the team up."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he is proud of Johnson because he has worked so hard to become an all-round player after being solely a jump shot specialist whose shot selection was, at times, questionable.
He pointed out Johnson not only had 17 points but also had 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot as evidence that he is doing more than just shooting.
Of course, Dixon added that Johnson's ability to knock down shots is a nice luxury. Against the Terrapins, for example, he was 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 6 of 8 from the field.
"I've had some talks with Durand lately, and they have been about the fact that he is a different player than he was," Dixon said. "Right now, he is also a rebounder. He is almost a two assists-to-one turnover guy. He has improved, he gives us other things. I explained this to him, that he can help us in other ways even if he doesn't score.
"You look at the points, but I thought he played really well overall, and it is his energy and how hard he plays [that] allows him to continue to get better."
Maryland (10-6, 2-1) actually gave Pitt a good battle for 16 minutes, but then the Panthers made their run and the Terrapins never recovered.
Once Pitt took a double-digit lead in the second half, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said it was difficult to cut into it because of how well the Panthers played defense and how efficient they were on offense.
He said Maryland had some opportunities to make some open shots but didn't capitalize and the Panthers kept pulling away.
"I really thought we would get it to 6 or 8, but it ended up 20," Turgeon said.
"I can't believe they are not ranked yet at 14-1; they are as good as anyone we have played. We missed some open looks, and they seemed to make them.
"We won't play too many teams better than they are. That is a heckuva basketball team."
This is the second consecutive game the Panthers were able to get their transition game going and Patterson said that isn't a coincidence. It is something they have worked to improve over the last year.
"We are ready to go at this point," Patterson said. "It started in summer conditioning, all we did was run so it is only right that we are getting out and going and pushing the tempo a little bit."
Talib Zanna added 13 points, and 9 rebounds for Pitt.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter: @paulzeise.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise First Published January 6, 2014 9:11 PM