Rutgers Pittsburgh Basketball

Pittsburgh's Xavier Johnson (1) shoots over Rutgers' Geo Baker (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH – For Pittsburgh’s Xavier Johnson, defense turned into offense on Tuesday night in a big way.

The sophomore point guard shut down Rutgers’ leading scorer and helped forced 20 Scarlet Knights turnovers and then scored a season-high 20 points at the other end to lead the Panthers to a 71-60 victory in the 2019 ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Pitt got it started with defense, holding Rutgers to 39.3% from the floor as Pitt (7-2) raced out to an eight-point first-half lead.

The successful transition from defense to offense continued throughout the game. Pitt finished with 28 points from 20 Rutgers turnovers.

“Our defense starts our breaks,” Johnson said. “Off their turnovers, we feel good, because we played good enough defense to get a stop. We have enough confidence to go score the ball at the other end.”

Johnson finished 8 of 14 shooting and hit 2 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also recorded a game-high eight assists.

The Knights closed the gap early in the second half as the Panthers’ shooting touch went cold. The teams played about 10 minutes of tight basketball before Johnson’s backcourt running mate Trey McGowens sparked a 13-0 Pitt run.

“I didn’t like the way we started the second half,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said. “We were able to regroup from their run and then we were able to make our run and get control back of the game.”

McGowens had six of Pitt’s 13 points on that run and finished with 16 points overall.

Rutgers (6-2) once again closed the gap in the final two minutes but couldn’t get closer than seven points.

Myles Johnson, Ron Harper, Jr. and Montez Mathis each had 14 points to share the team lead for Rutgers. Johnson had 14 rebounds and Harper had 10 rebounds, each recording a double-double.

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: Baker, the Knights’ leading scorer, had nine points, snapping his streak of six consecutive games in double figures.

“Everyone tries to make it hard on him,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We just turned it over way too much. That’s not characteristic of us.”

Baker had five of Rutgers’ 20 turnovers.

Pitt: After dropping two of their first four games, the Panthers now have won five straight and seem to be rounding into form against top-flight opponents, with their victory over the Knights coming on the heels of wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. Pitt now has four major-conference wins, as many as they had in all of 2018-19.

“I think we’ve had a challenging schedule for us, for where we are in our program,” Capel said. “It’s forced us to have to learn. We’ve had to learn going through the gauntlet.”

SPECIAL RETURN

Rutgers assistant coach Brandin Knight entered Petersen Events Center as a visitor for the first time. Knight was a point guard at Pitt from 1999-2003 and was part of the first game at the building in 2002. Knight scored 1,440 points for the Panthers and is one of four Pitt players to have his jersey number retired.

“We’re very fortunate to have him at Rutgers,” Pikiell said. “You can tell why his number is in the rafters. He’s determined. He’s driven. He’s smart. He’s going to be a terrific head coach soon.”

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Begins Big Ten play with a trip to No. 11 Michigan State on Sunday. The Knights are 0-8 all-time against the Spartans, with seven of the losses coming as conference opponents.

Pitt: Travels to Louisville for its second ACC game of the season. The Panthers are 1-0 in conference play after beating Florida State to open their season.

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