PITTSBURGH (AP) — When Jeff Capel took over the Pittsburgh basketball program, the strength of his first recruiting class was a sign that he might be able to get the Panthers back on the right track.
Guards Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and AuDiese Toney have been an integral part of Pitt’s 9-3 start to the season 9-3, and they still seem to have untapped potential.
Thursday night they gave a sneak peek at what the future may hold, as the three combined for a school-record 65 points in a 99-57 drubbing of New Orleans.
McGowens set a career high with 24 points, Johnson had 21 points and Toney set a career high with 20 points. They also combined for 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“They’ve all played well, but they’re freshmen,” Capel said. “They’ve been up and down. They’ve had moments where they looked really good. They’ve had other moments when they’ve looked like freshmen. Tonight was a night where they all looked pretty good.”
The Panthers took a 26-point lead into the half and then built upon it in the second period. An 11-0 run just past the halfway point of the second period pushed the Pitt advantage to 38 points.
The Privateers entered the game fourth in the nation in turnovers forced and steals per game, but it was the Panthers that did the pilfering. Pitt forced 22 turnovers and got 32 points off turnovers, compared to just six for New Orleans as the young Panthers thrived off turning defense into offense.
“Defense and confidence,” Johnson said. “Our confidence is high as freshmen. This if our first time playing together. We’re getting better and better.”
Guard Bryson Robinson had 11 points to lead New Orleans.
The game was the 300th played at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The Panthers own 247-53 record in the building, which opened in 2002.
New Orleans: The Privateers have struggled away from home all season and are 0-4 with a minus-95 point differential on the road and are 5-1 with a plus-126 point differential at home. The change in venue has coincided with a change in level of competition. New Orleans has played at Northwestern, Tulsa and UAB while hosting mostly lower-level opponents.
“For us to get this program back to where we were in the 80s and 90s, we have to play a national schedule,” head coach Mark Slessinger said. “As a one-bid conference right now, we have to be really, really good in the tournament and prepare ourselves.”
“His energy, when he got in the game, was contagious,” Capel said.
Pitt’s 42-point margin of victory was the most for the team in over three years and Pitt’s third win of 30 or more points this season. The Panthers didn’t have any such wins in the last two seasons.
“That’s something we talked about at halftime,” Capel said. “We don’t want to play the score. We’re trying to build these habits. Every minute for us is important.”
New Orleans: Will play its third and final major-conference opponent of the season at Baylor on Dec. 29.
Pitt: Will wrap up its non-conference schedule by hosting Colgate on Dec. 29.