By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
4:58 PM EST, January 7, 2014
PITTSBURGH — For most of the members of the Pittsburgh men's basketball team, Monday night's 79-59 victory over Maryland was about continuing to make a good first impression in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For redshirt sophomore forward Durand Johnson, it was also about payback.
"Me and Nick [Faust], we played against each other in high school, and Nick kind of got the best of us [Lake Clifton], so I had that on my mind," Johnson said. "I always had a chip on my shoulder. I was like, 'Tonight's the night where I show I can play too.'
"I really looked forward to this game."
It was nearly the reverse of the last time they faced each other, when Faust scored 24 points and led City to a 13-point victory in the Class 2A North semifinals four years ago at Coppin State. Johnson, then a senior, finished with just five points.
On Monday night at the Petersen Events Center, Johnson came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points, including five in an 11-2 run that helped the Panthers turn an early three-point deficit into a six-point halftime lead. Johnson shot 6 of 8 from the field for the game, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers.
Faust was coming off the best three-game stretch of his career, having averaged 16 points and made 14 of 22 shots, including 9 of 15 on 3-pointers. But he finished with just seven points on 2 of 7 shooting. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
Johnson's performance also came two days after he had one of his worst games since coming to Pitt three years ago. In a 74-62 victory at North Carolina State, Johnson didn't take a shot and played just eight minutes after missing a couple days of practice because of an illness.
Asked if the N.C. State game motivated him, Johnson said, "That didn't really matter to me, as long as we got the win. A lot of other guys on my team, they stepped up and I was happy for them. I just wanted to come out this game and in practice the day before and be ready."
Johnson is being used by Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon in much the same way that Faust, who started most of his first two years, is now being used by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. Johnson is an offensive spark and defensive stopper off the bench.
Not only did Johnson help take some of Maryland's defensive focus off senior guard Lamar Patterson, who finished with 19 points, but he also used a slight height advantage to slow down the Terps' leading scorer, junior guard Dez Welle. Wells scored just five points.
Dixon said after the victory that Johnson and the rest of the bench, including freshman forward Jamel Artis of Baltimore, played a key role.
"Our bench was the thing that got us going in the first half and continued through the second half," Dixon said. "The thing I noticed and thought was a great sign of growth and maturity for Durand was [his bouncing back after] not playing much in the last game.
"He played well in the couple of minutes he played. He had great energy [at practice Sunday], and it reflected in his performance [Monday]. That says a lot about him ... and it's a great reflection of why he has improved so much as a player."
The chip Johnson said he took with him into Monday's game has been there for a long time. It grew when Johnson wasn't recruited as much as he and some others thought he should have been out of Lake Clifton. He wound up spending a post-grad year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
"He's one of those guys, like a lot of Cecil Kirk [Rec Center] kids and Pittsburgh guys, who always play with a chip of their shoulder," said Towson coach Pat Skerry, who as an assistant at Pitt recruited Johnson. "That's the kind of guys those places have. They don't take anything for granted, they're hungry, they play with something to prove all the time."
Skerry said he feels Johnson is a perfect fit for Pitt's rugged style of play.
"I thought his motor and energy would fit in well with Coach Dixon's style, and Coach Dixon has done with him what he's done with a lot of guys — they've gotten better and matured in a really good role," Skerry said.
Said Johnson: "Coming off the bench, I just try to play hard and bring energy because the other guys look to me on the team for that. Whatever I do, I want to be the guy who brings the team up."
Johnson said he was recruited out of high school by former Maryland assistant and fellow Baltimorean Keith Booth, but he chose the Panthers in large part because they were the first school to offer him a scholarship.
"Being a loyal guy, I showed that and I knew this was the place for me," said Johnson, one of three former Baltimore high school players on the Panthers (redshirt junior forward Aron Nwankwo, of City, is the third).
After scoring a little more than four points per game in over 10 minutes per game last season, Johnson has more than doubled his scoring average (9.3) and playing time (19.9 minutes) while becoming the team's sixth man.
Many believe he could eventually become Pitt's No. 2 scoring option behind Patterson.
"As a shooter, it's all about confidence," Johnson said. "You've got to keep shooting and work on your craft — and always know the next shot is going to go in."
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