PITTSBURGH (AP) — Facing a major-conference opponent for the first time in program history, North Alabama was up to the task, forcing a tight contest with Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.
The talent level of the Panthers won out in the end, with Pitt (5-0) pulling ahead late for a 71-66 victory. But the Lions (1-3) certainly made an impression.
North Alabama led by four at the half and played a frustrating, scrappy defense that held the Panthers to a season-low 39 percent shooting.
Freshman point guard Xavier Johnson was the difference-maker for the Panthers. He led all scorers with a career-high 23 points, including several driving layups as the teams traded baskets down the stretch and a pair of free throws that iced the victory in the final seconds.
Kendarius Smith (19 points) and Jamari Blackmon (13 points) paced a more-balanced Lions attack. North Alabama had nine different players find the net and led in bench points, 22-9.
Pitt’s fortunes in the paint improved when forward Emanuel Littles fouled out with just over five minutes remaining. He had a game-high 10 rebounds.
North Alabama: Playing their first season of Division I basketball, the Lions don’t appear satisfied to be bottom feeders. They hung with the Panthers after playing Atlantic 10 favorites Saint Louis tight earlier in the week.
Pitt: The Panthers had their worst shooting game of the season and didn’t get their usual level of contribution from senior wing Jared Wilson-Frame. The team’s leading scorer, he came in averaging 21.3 points and five made 3-pointers per game, but was held to nine points and 1 for 6 from outside the arc.
North Alabama: Hosts NAIA Martin Methodist on Tuesday.