Xavier Johnson scored a game-high 23 points, including the game-clinching free throws with three seconds left on Saturday as Pittsburgh survived North Alabama’s upset bid for a 71-66 nonconference win at Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh.
Malik Ellison added 15 and Au’Diese Toney netted 12 points, plus eight rebounds, as the Panthers improved to 5-0 under first-year coach Jeff Capel. But in the process, they also showed why some think they’ll be the worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Lions (1-3), a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, led by four points at the half and were still tied with just under 11 minutes left. They trailed by only a point after Kendarius Smith’s 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining.
North Alabama had a chance to force overtime, but a 3-point attempt by Christian Agnew was rejected by Jared Wilson-Frame. Johnson rebounded, was fouled and made the foul shots which decided the outcome.
Smith paced the Lions with 19 points, while Jamari Blackmon added 13 points and seven assists. Cameron Diggs scored 12 points off the bench before fouling out.
North Alabama used the 3-point line to fuel its upset bid, making 10 of 31 from the arc. But Pittsburgh was able to win because it hit 31 of 42 free throws, as opposed to the Lions’ 8 of 13.
Pittsburgh came out and threw the first punch, establishing a 13-6 lead just over five minutes into the game on a short jumper by Johnson. At that point, North Alabama started clamping down defensively, holding the Panthers without a field goal for more than six minutes.
The Lions took a 17-16 lead when Blackmon canned a 3-pointer with 6:50 left in the half that capped an 11-3 run. Pittsburgh regained a narrow lead on the next possession and nursed it for most of the next three minutes.
North Alabama came up with a Diggs jumper and two free throws by Agnew in the final 20 seconds of the half, enabling it to head to the locker room with a 33-29 advantage.
—Field Level Media