Pittsburgh handles Niagara in opener 78-45

PITTSBURGH (AP) Jamel Artis scored a career-high 14 points to lead four players in double figures as Pittsburgh opened the season with a 78-45 victory over Niagara on Friday night.

Josh Newkirk added 12 points for the Panthers, freshman Cameron Johnson added 11 and Chris Jones had 10 for Pitt.

The Panthers shot 52 percent from the floor and had little trouble with the rebuilding Purple Eagles. Niagara missed its first eight shots and trailed by 14 points before scoring its first basket.

Pitt has won 18-straight season openers. Few were as easy as this one even with the Panthers playing without forward Durand Johnson. Pitt suspended the junior forward for the season on Friday, though he will remain on the team and be able to practice.

Emile Blackman led Niagara with 16 points but the Purple Eagles were never in it.

The Panthers were expecting a breakout season from Durand Johnson to keep them in the mix in a top-heavy ACC. The versatile swingman appeared fully recovered from the torn ACL in his right knee he suffered against Wake Forest in January. He averaged 13 points off the bench in a pair of exhibition victories looking every bit as explosive as he did at times as a sophomore.

Johnson sat on the end of the bench in a blue sweatsuit as his teammates vied for the chance to take his job.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon substituted liberally while giving several new faces extended playing time in Johnson's absence, including Cameron Johnson and transfer Sheldon Jeter.

Dixon challenged his players to up the intensity on defense after a sleepy win over Philadelphia in the team's final exhibition game and Pitt responded by overwhelming the young Purple Eagles early.

Niagara's roster includes 13 freshmen and sophomores and the Purple Eagles looked overcome by the stage. Pitt needed all of six minutes to build a 14-point lead. Artis hit a 3-pointer, Newkirk drilled a pull-up jumper and Jeter added a lay-up as the Panthers controlled play at both ends of the floor.

By the time Cameron Fowler made a runner for Niagara's first bucket, the Purple Eagles trailed 15-3. It didn't get much better for the rest of the half. A dunk by the 6-foot-1 Newkirk made it 32-4 before Niagara finally found its legs.

TIP-INS

Niagara: While Blackman's debut was promising, the rest of the Purple Eagles' newcomers had a difficult debut. Freshmen Karonn Davis, Matt Scott and DayJar Dickson combined to miss all nine of their field goal attempts.

Pitt: The Panthers signed Rozelle Nix and Damon Wilson to national letters of intent on Friday.

Nix is a 7-foot, 318-pound center who currently plays for Pensacola State Junior College. Nix, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, has shed 60 pounds over the last year and is averaging 12.8 points and 9.5 rebounds so far this season for PSJC. He will have two years of eligibility remaining when he enrolls.

Wilson is a 6-5 guard from Powder Springs, Georgia. He averaged 10.9 points and 8.0 assists per game during his junior season at Our Savior New American in Centerreach, New York.

UP NEXT

Niagara plays at Saint Peter's next Thursday.

Pitt hosts Samford on Sunday.

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