Virginia Tech got back on the right track by defeating Pitt 81-67 in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies improved to 12-4 on the season with the win, and they are now 1-2 in ACC play. The Panthers fell to 8-8 overall and 0-3 in conference play.
Though the Hokies led for 28:35 of the 40 minutes, they couldn’t put Pitt away until the final minutes. That’s mostly because of the disparity of three-point shooting between the two teams. The Hokies struggled to run their offense against Syracuse and UVA, and open shots were few and far between. They did a good job of running their offense against Pitt, but they missed a lot of outside jumpers that they have made with regularity over the last two seasons.
Virginia Tech was just 4-of-23 (17.4%) from three-point range despite getting plenty of good looks. Meanwhile, Pitt came into the game ranked No. 249 nationally in three-point percentage, but they were 12-of-26 (46.2%) against the Hokies. Still, Tech was able to come away with a comfortable victory thanks to two factors: turnovers and Kerry Blackshear.
The Hokies only committed six turnovers to Pitt’s 17, and Tech’s redshirt-sophomore center blew up on the Panthers for a career-high 31 points. Blackshear was 12-of-16 from the field, 2-of-3 from three-point range, and 5-of-7 from the free throw line. It was a dominant performance. Thanks in part to Blackshear’s efforts, the Hokies were able to compensate for their poor outside shooting by going 26-of-34 (76.5%) on their two-point attempts.
“We got a bunch of shooters around me, and they were finding me when I was open,” Blackshear said. “It made everything easier.”
Pitt was clearly worried about Virginia Tech’s outside threat despite the fact that the Hokies have been slumping recently, and it worked out for Blackshear on the inside. The Panthers represent one of the few teams that don’t outmatch the Hokies when it comes to size, and Tech’s big man took full advantage.
Turnover ratio is another thing that has plagued the Hokies in their losses this year. Tech turned it over 19 times in a loss to Kentucky, 12 times at Syracuse, and another 16 times against UVA. Against the Panthers, they gave the ball away just six times, including just once in the first half. They had nine more field goal attempts than Pitt, and eight more free throw attempts.
Despite Blackshear’s performance and the lack of turnovers, the Hokies didn’t put Pitt away until late in the game. Tech led 39-34 at halftime, and they extended that lead to 45-34 with 18:15 remaining in the game, and it appeared that they were going to control the second half. However, the Panthers rallied back and tied the game at 51 with 12:37 remaining.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 16 points for the Virginia Tech, while Ahmed Hill added 15.
The Hokies find themselves at 1-2 in the ACC, which is the exact same position they were in last year after a win over Duke and blowout losses to NC State and Florida State. As usual, we can expect the ACC schedule to be up and down.
“I think it’s going to be the most volatile year in the league since I’ve been here,” Buzz Williams said. “I think there is going to be a lot of ups and a lot of downs.”
The Hokies return to action on Wednesday night when they make the short drive to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be televised by RSN. Check your local listings.
Game Notes from Virginia Tech
Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored a career-high 31 points. It is his 10th game in double figures this season and his second consecutive. It is his fourth game of 20-or-more points this season and first-ever of 30 or more points.
Blackshear’s 31 points in the win is the first time a Hokie has scored 30-or-more points in an ACC game since Justin Bibbs scored 32 points in a win over Wake Forest in Cassell Coliseum on Jan. 13, 2016. He becomes one of just seven Hokies to score 30-or-more points in an ACC game. The seven players have accomplished the feat 15 times.
Ahmed Hill scored 15 points. This is his team-high 12th game in double figures this season.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 16 points. It is the eighth time this season that he has recorded double figures.
Justin Robinson recorded his first double-double of the season and the second of his career. Robinson scored 11 points and handed out a season-high 10 assists. The 10 assists are just one off the school record for assists in an ACC game, currently shared by Robinson and teammate Devin Wilson.
The Hokies are now 7-7 all-time against the Panthers and have won the last three meetings and four of the last five. Tech is 4-1 against Pitt under Buzz Williams.
The Hokies scored 50 of their 81 points in the paint and scored 22 points off of Pitt turnovers.