McGowens Breaks Out as Pitt Spoils RMU Opener

Pitt sophommore had big night in front of sellout crowd

Josh Rowntree
November 12, 2019 - 9:33 pm

Jeff Capel knows the immaturity of his young team is real. But he also isn’t afraid to give some tough love in order to correct it.

Such was the case last week, when Capel threw his players out of a practice before the team’s surprising loss to Nichols State Saturday. He knew that what he was seeing, from an effort and execution standpoint, just wasn’t right. 

The wakeup call was sent from Capel. It may have taken a game, but sophomore guard Trey McGowens got the message, loud and clear. 

“I just feel like I was in my own head when we came back after the Nichols State loss,” said McGowens, who went for 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals in Pitt’s  71-57 win at Robert Morris Tuesday night.

“Coach had some words and it was the truth. We had to come back, bounce back and forget about it.”

So what exactly were those words Capel said to McGowens?

“Just ‘get out of your own head,’” McGowens said. “I mean, he had some other words, but it was what we needed to hear. Every game Pitt plays in is a big game and we have to take that approach every game.”

The win spoiled Robert Morris’ opening night for its new arena, the UPMC Events Center, which hosted a raucous, sellout crowd. 

“I thought the environment was really cool,” Colonials coach Andy Toole said. “I thought our students came out and supported the way we’d love them to support all the time. I think this could become a great home court for us if we can get the campus and community support we deserve.”

After taking an early punch thanks to a 7-0 Pitt run to open the game, the Colonials saw that crowd come alive, ripping off an 18-0 stretch to gain a double-digit lead on Pitt. 

But the Panthers fought through the noise, and the spectacle of the event, by tying the game before halftime thanks to a 20-6 run. 

After intermission, McGowens broke out in front of a crowd with numerous current and former members of the Steelers organization in it, including wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who stood with RMU’s ‘Colonial Crazies’ student section.

“Get downhill, make them guard you, so that it opens up other things for your other teammates,” McGowens said of the mental change at halftime.

“We found something that worked and we just kept going with it,” Capel said. “Trey made some great reads off ball screens. But it was all set up by the execution, the timing, the screening and the spacing. Once they started to close that down, he made some good passes out of it.”

McGowens had scored ten points in each of Pitt’s first two games. Not a terrible mark, but not what the Panthers were hoping for from a player they feel can bring more to the table on a nightly basis. His teammates and coach could feel McGowens drive shine through as the game wore on.

“It wasn’t frustration, he just wanted to do good,” junior center Terrell Brown said. “We understand that. But he’s relaxed now and he (got) whatever he wanted.”

“He scored the ball, and he was very efficient doing it,” Capel said. “This is the first time, until late in the game, where those two guys (McGowens and point guard Xavier Johnson) didn’t get doubled on ball screens. There was a little bit more space to do some things and to attack. 

“He was able to find some things. I thought he just got into a good rhythm offensively.”

The win, and the way Pitt climbed out of a first half scoring valley, was a must after the upset Saturday, especially with a game against rival West Virginia looming Friday night.

“Nichols State, it shouldn’t have taken that,” McGowens said. “But it did. We had to deal with it, learn from it and try not to let it happen again.”

And that’s exactly what McGowens and his teammates did, even if it took a little while. 

Hear more from Trey McGowens below.