About an hour ago
Home point keeper Xavier Johnson took the season-opening loss to St. Francis (Pennsylvania), so he heeded Panthers coach Jeff Capel’s advice to focus on setting the pace and taking care of the ball.
With Johnson in control, Pitt was never left behind Drexel. As the match drew to a close in the second half, the young 6-foot-tall 3-pivot took the lead to lead the Panthers to a 83-74 win on Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center.
“That was the main focus of the game,” Johnson said with a laugh. “The coach told me to take care of the ball. I told myself to slow down.”
Johnson scored the match’s highest level 27 points, with eight assists, six rebounds and, most importantly, only three turns. He had seven turnovers in an 80-70 loss to St. Francis on Wednesday, including six in the first half, and Capel said it caused the Panthers to panic.
“I thought he appreciated basketball a little more, slowed down and played at a better pace,” said Capel of Johnson, who scored 9 of his 13 field goals, including three hat-trick. “He was really locked in either side of the ball. That was the key. I thought he made really good decisions.”
Johnson was the catalyst, and the Panthers also had strong performances from junior Odezi Tony (20 points) and second student Justin Champagne (19 points), as the trio collected 35 points in the first half as Pete advanced 44-34 in the first half. And 80% of the total PET Score.
Champagnie scored Pete’s first seven points, starting with a three-point play, by going to his left towards the Trophy on streak possessions. Johnson made 3 consecutive throws that put the Panthers ahead 37-22 in 5:32 first half. After Drexel cut Pete’s lead to five in the second half, Johnson made another big 3 to lead 67-59 with a 7:09 left.
Although Pete (1-1) hit 62% (31 out of 50) of the field, the focus in practice on Friday was on defense and rebounds. It may not have appeared in the stats – as Drexel fired 48.4% (30 of 62) from the field and had 29-26 rebounds – but Capel saw improved energy from the Panthers.
Kapil was particularly happy to play second striker Abdelkrim Coulibaly, who had started his first career, and Gerald Darmgül.
With Drexel running the plays through great striker James Butler, Coulibaly is tasked with competing entries inside and fighting through ball screens. Butler finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, without any attack, as Team Dragon (0-1) was 24 points ahead of Camryn Winter and 19 points by DJ Pickerstaff.
“I thought it was huge for us,” Capel said of Coulibaly’s defense. “For us to hold Butler without an offensive rebound that was tremendous. That was an important point. He averaged four games last season.”
The Panthers led up to 16 in the second half before Drexel rallied to lower it down to 64-59 on Winter Alley to Bickerstaff with a 7:30 left. Johnson and Champagne answered with three shots, and Champagnie added a basic float before releasing an air ball that Tony bounced off and scored a goal to take the 74-63 lead.
“It’s good to win. It feels good to have our first win of the season.” I thought our men had really bounced back over the past two days. Our veterans did a great job of getting up and setting the table for us. I am proud to win. We have a long way to go, and there is a lot of work to do, but it looks much better than it was last night. ”
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