Inconsistency continues to bite No. 16 Virginia Tech (13-4, 7-3) on the road as the Hokies fell 83-72 to Pittsburgh (9-5, 5-4) on Wednesday evening.
“They were hungrier, they were more desparate, so credit to Coach Capel and his staff,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “They didn’t play particularly well against Notre Dame, but those kids took the weekend and righted the ship and figured some things out. They outplayed us tonight.”
The Panthers got plenty of production from its bench against the Hokies with 47 points coming from outside the starting five. That started with usual starting point guard Xavier Johnson, who poured in a career-high 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. This was Johnson’s first time coming off of the bench this season, and the role seemed to fit him nicely.
“I don’t think we necessarily scouted him as a shooter, so we were going under a lot of ball screens and he was able to hit those shots,” forward Justyn Mutts said. “At the end of the day, he’s a good player, and good players are going to make big-time shots. 32 points, you have to respect it.”
“Getting three stops in a row, we call that a ‘Sut’ and I don’t think we had any in the second half,” Mutts said. “We just weren’t able to dig our heels into the ground and get it done.”
Following back-to-back games where the Hokies held Notre Dame and Virginia, respectively, to their season lows in scoring, Tech allowed 80 points for the first time this season. The Panthers made nine threes and shot 50% from the floor in the win.
“We were just a step off. We cover up a lot of things with Aluma and Mutts,” Young said. “We were a step off of where we needed to be. Let’s be honest, Pittsburgh was the tougher team tonight, and that’s been a category that usually favors the Hokies, but it didn’t tonight. Lesson learned that you better pack that lunch pail every night.
The only silver lining defensively for the Hokies was their performance against the ACC’s leading scorer, Justin Champagnie. Entering the game averaging 20 points per game, Champagnie scored just 10 against the Hokies’ frontcourt, tying his season low.
“The gameplan on him because he’s such a dominant player, you just have to buckle down and play defense,” Mutts said. “We all watched a lot of film on him to see what his go-to’s were and what he likes to do and just go out there and play him according to that. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”
The Hokies’ frontline had a great game offensively as well, as Mutts and Keve Aluma combined for 47 points and 16 rebounds. Aluma was able to one-up his career-high 29 points from Saturday’s game against UVA with 30 on Wednesday. He also knocked down a career-high four three-pointers; he had only hit three in the first nine games of ACC play.
Outside of Tech’s starting forwards, the Hokies didn’t get much else offensively. Only three other Hokies scored. Sophomore Hunter Cattoor led the way with 12 points, all coming in the second half.
The starting frontcourt shot over 60% on the night, while the rest of the team was an abysmal 24% from the floor.
“Things are great when that thing is going in the basket, but you have to ring the bell and put that thing in the basket to put defenses on their heels and have them questioning some things,” Young said. “If you don’t make shots, now they’re on their toes and picking you up at half court and pushing you away a little bit. I didn’t think we were good on either end.”
This loss drops Tech to third in the ACC, behind Virginia and Florida State. Following the huge comeback loss against the Cavaliers, the Hokies weren’t able to live up to the hype and grab their third straight victory.
“It’s tough to come off of an emotional win and come in here and drop one,” Mutts said. “You really hate to see it, but at the ed of the day it’s basketball and it’s the ACC. If you don’t bring your best stuff every game, anybody can beat anybody.”
The Hokies will trade freezing Pittsburgh for balmy Miami this weekend as they face the Hurricanes for the second time this season. Tech beat Miami 80-78 in Blacksburg in late December and will look to bounce back to sweep the season series with the Canes.