In front of a solid crowd in Cassell Coliseum, Virginia Tech was terrific against Pitt, the ACC’s first-place team, winning 79-72.
The Hokies entered Saturday in 12th place in the league. Yet, against the conference’s best, they looked more like the team that knocked off North Carolina, Duke and Virginia as opposed to the one fell to Boston College and Georgia Tech. Vegas, which favored Tech by five, must’ve known.
The performance by Virginia Tech (16-11, 6-10 ACC) was special, similar to the day off the hardwood. Chase O’Brien, a seven-year-old from Roanoke who has fought childhood pilocytic astrocytoma since he his diagnosis at the age of five, was in attendance with his parents, Eric and Jessica. He painted the shoes Mike Young wore during the program’s Shoes 4 Hope game vs. Syracuse.
Like the other families who helped decorate the footwear of Tech’s staff, the O’Briens planned on being in attendance on Saturday, Jan. 28. But Chase was admitted to the hospital that Friday night.
After the win over the Orange, Young said Chase would be “treated like royalty” when the O’Briens finally made it to Blacksburg. And Young kept his word on Saturday. An honorary starter for Virginia Tech, Chase was an inspiration for the Hokies in their win over the Panthers (19-8, 12-4 ACC).
“Toughest guy in the building [at] six years old,” Young said of O’Brien after the win. “To have them here and be able to recognize him and bring him into the locker room after a big win and present him the game ball… Pretty awesome day.”
Toughest guy in the building 😤💪
Chase loves the camera too 🎥😅 pic.twitter.com/CmNYPTPtc6
— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) February 19, 2023
Virginia Tech gave the O’Briens and the other 8,000-plus fans in Blacksburg multiple reasons to cheer. It wasn’t as dominant of a defensive performance as Kenny Brooks & Co. on Thursday, but the Hokies controlled the game from start to finish.
In a physical battle, one that featured 44 fouls, the Hokies were solid. After letting Georgia Tech run all over them on Wednesday, they held the third-best offense in the ACC to 72 points on 47% shooting.
Pitt big man Federiko Federiko posed matchup nightmares for many league foes this year. But Tech was connected, allowing him just 12 points and three rebounds. He didn’t swat a shot either, which is impressive considering his 9% block rate is 30th in the country.
Tech switched one-through-four on defense. Grant Basile, Mylyjael Poteat and Lynn Kidd were solid on Federiko while Justyn Mutts locked down Blake Hinson. The junior, who entered the weekend averaging a team-best 15.9 points per game, was 1-of-8 with four points. He fouled out with six minutes remaining.
Sean Pedulla, Hunter Cattoor, MJ Collins and John Camden did a solid job corralling Pitt on the perimeter. One of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, the Panthers were 3-of-18. Basile said the guards were “fantastic” and didn’t need much help from the bigs, which made it easier to stick with their assignments and provide less assistance, especially against the pick-and-roll.
“We had some breakdowns, but they made us have those breakdowns,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said of the Hokies. “They were terrific. … They did some different things [in terms of] ball screen defense that we hadn’t seen them do on tape. I just thought they played with a sense of urgency, and they played with physicality.”
Jamarius Burton finished with 15 points to lead the Panthers while Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott added 11 each. There was a steady production off the bench, too – Nike Sibande and Guillermo Diaz Graham contributed eight apiece. But Tech made Capel’s squad work for its shots.
At the same time, Virginia Tech was fiery on the offensive end. Basile posted his ninth 20-point performance of the year, the fourth in a row, and Tech shot above 50% for the sixth time in its last eight games.
Basile was effective, hitting four of his eight 3-point attempts and drawing out the defense. He had five first-half turnovers, which Young said was “atrocious,” but made life tough on Pitt on both ends. Capel said the forward was as good in person as he was on tape, and he described Basile’s film as “elite.”
“He’s put together a really good ACC level of play for us,” Young said of Basile. “He’s gotten better, there’s been a real uptick over the last two, two-and-a-half weeks, maybe a month. Just kind of hit his stride a little bit and playing really good basketball. I’m proud of him.”
Basile’s steady flow of points was supplemented with four other double-digit scorers. Mutts, Cattoor and Pedulla chipped in 12 each while Poteat scored 15 off the bench. Young joked that Poteat hadn’t scored that much in the last four practices.
“He was great,” Young said of Poteat. “Great interior passing. We had them a bit churned up, I thought. He’s got great hands and he’s physical, and he’s got a rear end as broad as the front of a Buick. He’s working better [at] sealing people. … He gives you some flexibility defensively because he can really move his feet.”
But the ball moved. The Hokies’ motion had Pitt “scrambling,” according to Capel, and they attacked the basket. They scored 30 points in the paint, were 9-of-19 from behind the arc and had 17 assists on 25 made field goals.
Four Panthers – Hinson, Federiko, Cummings and Elliott – spent the game in foul trouble. Basile and Mutts dabbled in it for Tech. But Young’s crew found success on the interior when got Pitt out of position and found the open man. Often times, that was under the basket in the hands of Basile, Mutts or Poteat.
“I thought we shared it tonight,” Basile said. “We did a good job of getting guys shots. The way they were guarding us, they started switching some stuff, Mylyjael really took advantage of that. He was fantastic for us. When you have a guy that big with soft hands like that, he was just pulling everyone in and we were getting open looks because of it.”
It took the Hokies seven minutes to really gain control of the contest, but once they ripped off an 18-2 run over a six-minute span to extend the lead to double digits, there was no letting off the gas. It helped that they spent the final 13 minutes of the game in the bonus and made 20 of their 28 free throws (12-of-17 in the second half).
Though losses to Boston College (twice) and Georgia Tech damaged the NCAA tournament résumé for Virginia Tech, if the team plays like it did on Saturday vs. Pitt, it’s going to be a tough out come March.
“We were awesome,” Young said. “There’s a correlation between playing great defense and rebounding and winning. [If] you don’t guard and you don’t rebound, you make it awfully hard on yourself.
“We were just so dynamic today and so connected and transition defense was on point. Just a pleasure to watch. That’s it. Now, let’s come back after two days of practice and do it against Miami.”
Box Score: Link
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Don’t blame the referees. They thought they were going to call a basketball game, and it turned out to be rugby.
What team is showing up is all I can say!!!
This team surely is hard to figure. A freind ofmine who went to the Duke game, which was our 2nd win in our first 7 games told me a guy sitting near hom said, “if you told me before the season we’d have 2 wins at this stage and they were over UNC and Duke I never would have believed it.” There really isn’t a pattern w/this group. One any night they can beat – or lose – to anybody. What we also know though is that they can can play defense – when they want to. And that’s what it is going to take if we’re going to have chance to play in the NCAA.
Great, sustained effort. Play today’s game film on the first day of practice next year.
This year, the difference between the top and the bottom of the ACC, and probably the other major conferences, isn’t as much as it usually is. UVA was fortunate to beat ND at home; and lousy Louisville beats a Clemson team playing for its NCAA life. UNC was supposed to be a final four team, but a loss today at NC State puts them at 8-8 in the ACC. We say we can’t figure out our team. So says every other fan base about their team.
Pitt is the Duke of the north. They whine about everything. Should have been “T’d” up numerous times.
I don’t think it’s any confidence based on their head coach. He was all over there officials the majority of the game and his players followed suit complaining about many calls. I actually think that was one of the keys in the second half as the Hokies kept their compare in the midst of some very questionable officiating (it was bad for both teams).
The officiating really impacted game flow and made what felt like a very intense game in the first half, very choppy in the second half.
The officials attempted to call the actual rules of basketball, which was why the Panthers had such foul trouble. I have had enough of “physical” play, which is nothing but gorilla-ball.
Great win and EAT S*** PITT!
If you can figure this team out, you’re a smarter Hokie than me…
Add this Old Hokie to the list. VT `63
If we hit the 3’s we win, if not we lose. 9 of 19 vs Pitt, 6 of 23 vs GT, 10 of 32 vs BC
Good to see Dr. Jekyll again.
Now, if Mr. Hyde would just go away.
Exactly. Lose to 2 of the worst teams in the league, them defeat the first (now tied for 2nd) place team. (And worst of all, it put uVA in 1st place.) Somebody figure this out for Hokie nation. Maybe Chase should be honarary starter every game. I was unable to attend, nor watch, nor listen, nor monitor on ESPN website (felt like I was in a nightmare); I predicted this would be a mugging more than basketball game. When David says ‘physical’, I sure its a gross understatement. Thanks for all the good work David & the TSL team.
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