Jan 6, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Durand Johnson (5) dribbles the ball as Maryland Terrapins forward Evan Smotrycz (1) defends during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 79-59. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt Panthers Men’s Basketball: Life Without Durand Johnson

The Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team was dealt a significant blow when news broke that 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore guard Durand Johnson suffered a torn ACL and meniscus injury in the second half of Pitt’s 80-65 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said in a statement, “We are thoroughly heartbroken for Durand.”

Pitt basketball fans are heartbroken as well. At times, the Panthers can’t seem to catch a break.

In its first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitt (15-1, 3-0 ACC) has had a very successful start to the season, including a re-entry into the Top 25 in both national polls. Pitt will now have to move on without Durand, and other players will need to step up in his absence.

Before discussing life without Johnson, let’s look over his contributions to the team.  Quite possibly the best sixth man in the ACC, Johnson ranked fourth on the team in scoring (8.8 ppg) and second to Lamar Patterson in 3-pointers made (22).  He was 22 for 65 from three (33.8 percent), 29 for 34 from the free throw line (85.3 percent), and had 23 assists and 14 steals. He had recently come off his career high of 17 points against Maryland.

Many Panthers fans doubted Pitt in its first year in the ACC, as 7-foot center Steven Adams was drafted No. 12 overall by the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, point guard Travon Woodall and forward Dante Taylor graduated, and guards J.J. Moore (Rutgers) and Trey Zeigler (TCU) transferred from the program.

I, for one, thought that Pitt was going to have a rebuilding year while matching up with powerhouses Duke and North Carolina, among others. However, with the addition of key freshmen Michael Young, Jamel Artis and Josh Newkirk, as well as vastly improved guards Patterson and Cameron Wright, the Panthers have made me a believer.

There is no reason to write Pitt off with the loss of Johnson.

Dixon has made adjustments to ACC life, as Pitt has played more zone than we are accustomed to seeing in the Big East. Pitt is not afraid to run the court and change their tempo, while remaining physical on defense.

With the loss of Johnson, two players will really be asked to step up and fill the void. 6-foot-1 point guard Josh Newkirk and 6-foot-6 redshirt freshmen guard Chris Jones will be key.

Newkirk, averaging 14.9 minutes per game, has hit some big shots (42 percent from the field FG) and 3-pointers (35 percent) in the start of his career with Pitt, and I anticipate that Pitt fans will see more from him in the upcoming weeks.

Jones has had limited playing time (5.9 minutes per game and 2.6 points per game), but we all know that Dixon is not afraid to go 10-deep with his roster. Look for Jones to be thrown into more game action, and I believe he will respond and be an important contributor to Pitt’s scoring.

I fully believe Pitt will have players step up; the Panthers will be playing in the Big Dance in March. The loss of Johnson certainly hurts, and it is heartbreaking to see this happen to a player who was improving every game. Look for Newkirk and Jones to both break out for Pitt in the upcoming games.

Newly-ranked Pitt will travel to Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-2 ACC) Tuesday night, followed by a trip to No. 2 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 ACC) on Saturday afternoon in a battle of former Big East heavyweights.

Tags: Durand Johnson Jamie Dixon Josh Newkirk Pitt Basketball Pitt Panthers

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