No. 16/22 Virginia Tech defeated Pitt 70-64 on the road on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies improved to 20-5 overall, marking their fourth consecutive 20-win season. They moved to 9-4 in league play. Pitt dropped 12-14 overall and 2-11 in the ACC.
This is the first time in over 30 years that the Hokies have had four consecutive 20-win seasons. They won 20 or more games for five straight years from 1981 through 1986. It’s only the second time in program history that Virginia Tech basketball has accomplished this feat.
Missing Justin Robinson yet again with a foot injury, Virginia Tech didn’t exactly dominate the game, but they led nearly all of it despite a scrappy performance from the freshmen-laden Panthers. Kerry Blackshear was the star of the game, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He was 8-of-9 from the field, 3-of-3 from three-point range, and 10-of-11 from the free throw line. He also had three assists.
Ahmed Hill had 14 points, while Ty Outlaw added seven points and nine rebounds. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had just nine points, but he spent nearly all of the game in foul trouble. He did not start the second half because he had three fouls, and he spent large stretches of the first half on the bench, playing just 17 minutes overall. Freshman Jonathan Kabongo came off the bench to hit two big three-pointers, and he also had an assist and a steal in 13 minutes.
Wabissa Bede struggled to make an impact in terms of scoring yet again, but he made huge plays in other ways. Bede finished with seven assists and two steals, and also had a huge block on a three-point attempt late in the game that would have closed the gap to two points.
The statistics in this game were nearly even, with the exception of three-point shooting. The Hokies were 10-of-21 (47.6%) from the outside, while Pitt was just 6-of-22 (27.3%). Both teams made 18 free throws, and the Hokies had a +3 advantage on the boards and a +1 advantage in turnovers, though Pitt outscored Tech 16-10 off those turnovers.
Virginia Tech got off to a great start in this game, with a three-pointer from Kerry Blackshear putting his team up 17-6 with 12:16 remaining in the first half. However, Nickeil Alexander-Walker picked up his second foul less than two minutes later, and as we saw earlier this year against UNC, the Tech offense just doesn’t work very well with both Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson on the bench. The Hokies scored just five points over the next eight minutes, and the Panthers were able to take a 24-22 lead.
To make matters worse, Buzz Williams put Alexander-Walker back into the game with the offense struggling, and he quickly picked up his third foul at the 3:23 mark. However, the Hokies were able to outplay Pitt down the stretch despite his absence. Freshman guard Isaiah Wilkins hit a three-pointer to put Tech up 29-26, and then Wabissa Bede grabbed a defensive rebound and took it coast-to-coast for a layup to close the half to make the score 31-26 at the intermission.
Alexander-Walker started the second half on the bench thanks to his three fouls, and he did not return to the game until the 13:14 mark. At that point the Hokies led 38-35, so they were only outscored by two by the Panthers with Alexander-Walker on the bench.
The game remained close until finally the Hokies were able to get some separation with under 10 minutes remaining. With his team leading 48-46, Kerry Blackshear hit a three-pointer to make it 51-46. That was followed by a Ty Outlaw three-pointer with 6:35 remaining, and then an outside jumper by Jonathan Kabongo made it 57-46 Hokies with 5:44 left in the game. That gave the Hokies a 9-0 run in less than two minutes, and Virginia Tech eventually led by as many as 12 points.
Pitt did make one final run, cutting the margin to 67-62 with 34 seconds remaining. The Panthers then stole a wild pass by Kerry Blackshear, and Pitt’s Ndir Sidy attempted a three-pointer with 22 seconds left. Bede blocked it and then recovered the ball, ending Pittsburgh’s comeback. Nickeil-Alexander Walker closed out the game with three out of four free throws the rest of the way, and the Hokies walked out of Pittsburgh with the win.
Virginia Tech returns to action on Monday night when they host No. 4 Virginia. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be televised by ESPN.