Pitt faced Virginia Tech at the Peterson Events Center on Saturday night looking to pull out of a two-game skid, but the Panthers were met with a tough challenge from the Hokies and were defeated 76-71 at home.
Both teams were solid defensively early on, and that was a positive sign for a Pitt team they gave up a season-high 91 points to Wake Forest in its last outing. However, the Hokies broke a two-minute stalemate with a three-pointer by Storm Murphy and got another three from Justyn Mutts on their next trip down the floor to take an early 6-0 lead. Pitt would not respond until four minutes into the game, when Mouhamadou Gueye got to the foul line and knocked down two free throws to make it 6-2. And Gueye would make Pitt’s first shot from the field, a two-point jumper, a minute later.
Unfortunately for Pitt, Virginia Tech would then add eight points in short order, including five from Mutts, to build up a 14-4 advantage at the 12:48 mark, and by the midway point of the opening half, the Hokies held a 21 -8 leads. About a minute later, a Keve Aluma layup would make it 25-8. With the Hokies having tripled up on the Panthers, Pitt began to show some fight, going on an 8-3 run to cut the lead to 28-16. But Virginia Tech would score on its next nine trips down the floor to extend its lead to 49-22 by the halftime break.
Those nine successful trips down the floor were part of a streak of 13 straight shots made by the Hokies, who shot 75 percent from the field in the first half and just under 77 percent from three-point range. They were led by Mutts and Nahiem Alleyne, who scored 11 points each. Meanwhile, Pitt was led by Gueye and Jamarius Burton, who had seven points a piece. John Hugley was remarkably held scoreless.
The Panthers would show signs of life in the second half, as they cut into the Hokies’ substantial lead by going on a 17-2 run to make it 57-45. By the 11:00 mark, the Hokies’ lead would be down to 10, after a made three by Femi Odukale. And by the midway point of the second half, it would be 60-50, Hokies.
Just as things were starting to look up for Pitt, the team briefly lost Odukale to an ankle injury. However, that did not stop the Panthers from continuing to chip away at the Hokies’ lead, as four made foul shots by Gueye and Burton cut it down to six. Unfortunately for Pitt, Virginia Tech would wake up late in the second half and begin to fend off the comeback bid. The Hokies would succeed at keeping the Panthers at arm’s length for much of the remainder of the game. However, an Odukale three would make it 73-69 with 20 seconds left and two free throws would make it 74-71. But Murphy would answer with two of his own to put the finishing touches on a 76-71 Hokies win.
For the second straight game, Femi Odukale topped 20 points and led Pitt in scoring. This time around, he had a game-high 25 points to go with three assists. However, Jamarius Burton had arguably the best all-around game, with 21 points, six rebounds and a game-high four assists. But the two did not get much help from John Hugley, who had just two points.
With the loss, Pitt fell to 8-15 on the season and 3-9 in conference play. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech improved to 13-10 overall and 5-7 in ACC competition. Despite the tough loss, the Panthers still have a chance to get the last laugh, as the two teams will meet again Monday in Blacksburg. And after an impressive showing in the second half of Saturday’s matchup, Pitt has plenty of reasons to feel confident heading into that game.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism