PITTSBURGH - Trey McGowens set a school record for a freshman by pouring in 33 points, fellow freshman Xavier Johnson added 21 points and 10 assists and Pittsburgh held off Louisville 89-86 in overtime on Wednesday night for the program's first Atlantic Coast Conference victory in nearly two years.
The Panthers (11-4, 1-1) rode their freshmen backcourt hard to snap a 23-game losing streak in ACC regular season play dating back to a win over Florida State on Feb. 18, 2017. McGowens scored 20 points in the first half as the Panthers built an early lead and hit a twisting layup in overtime with 38 seconds to go in overtime that put Pitt ahead to stay.
Johnson shook off early foul trouble to score 17 after the break, including a 3-pointer early in the extra session to answer a 3-pointer by Louisville's Ryan McMahon.
The Cardinals missed their final six shots over the last 90 seconds, including a desperation heave by Steven Enoch that clanged off the backboard. Christen Cunningham led the Cardinals (10-5, 1-1) with 23 points and Enoch chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds, but Louisville saw its 12-game winning streak over Pitt come to a screeching half. Leading scorer Jordan Nwora finished with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting.
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Still, the Cardinals had a chance.
Dwayne Sutton hit a runner with 26 seconds left to go in regulation to cap a 17-4 run and draw Louisville even for the first time since midway through the first half. Pitt coach Jeff Capel opted not to call timeout, but the Panthers were unable to get a shot off in the final seconds of regulation as McGowens lost the handle just before time expired.
No matter, Pitt survived despite making just 16 of 33 free throws by forcing 18 Louisville turnovers and maintaining its composure when things got tight.
The Panthers were outclassed during a 25-point loss to North Carolina last Saturday in Capel's ACC debut, one that offered a glimpse of the long road that lies ahead. Still, he reiterated his team is headed in the right direction, and the Panthers proved it against a program in the middle of a rebuilding process of its own.
Louisville rallied from a halftime deficit to surge past Miami in first-year coach Chris Mack's conference opener but the Cardinals struggled to get into any rhythm against the Panthers. While Xavier Johnson has been the most consistent of Capel's three freshmen, it was McGowens who flourished after Johnson picked up his third foul with 6:52 left in the first half. Slashing to the basket relentlessly, McGowens keyed a 16-4 run to give the Panthers something they've rarely had in conference play for the last two years: breathing room.
Just not quite enough. Though Pitt responded to a Louisville surge that brought the Cardinals within 63-60 by going on a 12-3 burst of their own, Louisville kept attacking, eventually tying it on Sutton's bucket.
Louisville: Defense could be an issue all season for the Cardinals, who allowed the Panthers — particularly Johnson and McGowens — to get in the lane whenever they wanted. Even a switch to a 1-3-1 zone in the first half failed to slow Pitt's momentum.
Pitt: Freed from the weight of a losing streak that the majority of the roster had no part of, the Panthers could be a threat against middle-tier ACC teams thanks to the confidence and athleticism of Johnson and McGowens.
Louisville: Travels to No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday.
Pitt: Visits No. 15 North Carolina State on Saturday.
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