After Virginia Tech’s 76-71 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Mike Young said all that matters is the win in the record books.
And he’s right. It wasn’t a pretty result by any means, especially down the stretch, but the Hokies (13-10, 5-7 ACC) got the job done on the road, their third straight victory.
“I’ve said it a couple of times now, the last time I checked, the only thing that matters is the final ledger, and that goes in the scorebook as a Hokie win,” Tech head coach Mike Young said afterwards. “What could go wrong in the second half did go wrong, but it all worked out in the end.”
Up by 27 at halftime, the Hokies looked like they could put the car in neutral and coast the rest of the way. But as good as Virginia Tech was in the first half, Pitt (8-15, 3-9) equaled that in the second.
1st half: VT 75%, Pitt 40%
2nd half: VT 38%, Pitt 71%
The Hokies exploded early thanks to fantastic 3-point shooting. They made 10-of-13 attempts in the first 20 minutes, including eight in a row at one point. The team couldn’t miss, drilling 13 consecutive field goals, and led by double digits for almost 13 minutes.
“We were just aggressive,” Hokies point guard Storm Murphy said. “Our defensive mindset really helped our offense. We were really helping each other, really aggressive on defense. … I felt like we were sharing it, and we tried to put [John] Hugley in ball screens and space the floor, and we knocked down some open shots.”
But the Panthers roared back, a charge spearheaded by Femi Odukale. They outscored Tech 23-9 in the first eight minutes, and in the blink of an eye, the margin was 12.
Odukale, who finished with a game-high 25 points, hit seven of his eight shots and scored 22 in the second half. Jamarius Burton (21 points) added 14 down the stretch, but Pitt didn’t have its go-to option in John Hugley.
Tech did a good job of shutting down the 6-9 sophomore forward, who averages 14.7 points per game. Hugley missed his lone attempt in the first half, and he was held to just two points (1-4) for the game.
“We haven’t doubled the post in quite some time, we just thought it was necessary,” Young said, “or he would foul Mutts and Aluma out by himself. We did a masterful job there.”
Still, the Hokies made the right plays down the stretch to win. That’s also despite 16 turnovers, ten that came in the second half.
Storm Murphy led the way with 20 points and came up big when needed, especially driving to the rim. Three different times, the fifth-year point guard blew by a Pitt defender and attacked the basket, something that hasn’t been common this season. But he scored each time, giving his team a lift.
Murphy also had three of Tech’s last five field goals, including a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to nine, and made three free throws in the final 46 seconds to preserve the victory.
“I think just having that aggressive mindset to make plays,” Murphy said of what propelled him down the stretch. “I had some opportunities, and thankfully they went down. … Just trying to really share the ball, … and we got a lot of good looks.”
It was another quiet night for Keve Aluma, similar to his performance at Florida State a week prior. He only attempted four shots and scored just six points, so Tech needed some other guys to step up.
Justyn Mutts (16 points) and Nahiem Alleyne (14) really helped carry the weight. Mutts did turn the ball over eight times – four in each half – but he hit two 3-pointers, made five of his ten field goals, and made four-of-six free throw attempts. Alleyne drained four triples on seven attempts and had a really efficient game.
Tech also received a boost from its bench, an aspect that’s gradually come to life as of late. Darius Maddox (nine points), Sean Pedulla (five) and David N’Guessan combined for 17 points, which was huge. The trio outscored Pitt’s reserves 17-2.
The Hokies have also controlled the boards in three of their last four games. It’s understandable to not win the rebounding battle against Florida State and four seven-footers, but Young’s crew has been good in that area outside of that.
In mid-January, the Hokies were outrebounded by 15 at Boston College and 11 at North Carolina. Since? A plus-six margin vs. Miami, plus-10 vs. Georgia Tech, plus-eight at Pitt.
“Those rebounding numbers can’t tell the whole story,” Young said. “We shot 75% in the first half. There aren’t many balls coming off the rim. I’m not sure that Pittsburgh had an offensive rebound, and that was a big point of emphasis coming into this game. They’ve got men, now. They are men.
“That might be the biggest key to the whole thing – we’re rebounding the ball better, we’re competing on the glass better, we’re coming up with more 50-50 balls. That’s another possession for us that they don’t have.”
Now Virginia Tech’s attention turns to… well, Pitt. The Hokies and Panthers meet again on Monday for the second time in three days due to the initial matchup on Jan. 1 being rescheduled due to COVID. It’s another 7 p.m. tip on the ACC Network, and Young & Co. are searching for their fourth straight win.
“Definitely a sense of relief to come out with the W, especially after they came out firing in the second,” Murphy said. “Happy to come out of here with the W, that’s the bottom line, but a lot to look at. We can’t be up 27 and give that up.”