Hokie Hardwood: Pittsburgh
The #16 Virginia Tech Hokies (13-4, 7-3) were defeated by the Pittsburgh Panthers (9-4, 5-4) in Pennsylvania Wednesday evening, 72-83.
Keve Aluma followed an impressive 29-point outing Saturday with another career-high, this time scoring 30. Justyn Mutts’ 17 points marked a new personal best in Hokie colors, though the rest of the team was unable to overcome their woes offensively and allowed a back and forth game to slip out of reach. Only three Tech players scored in the first 22 minutes.
Pittsburgh’s Xavier Johnson one-upped Aluma by scoring 32 in his first game off the bench this season while a 33-12 run in the late second half powered Pitt to victory.
Just as usual, the first half was anything but dominant.
It seems as if the Hokies have issues starting with energy against lower tier opponents and this was evident Wednesday. Careless turnovers combined with lethargic defense let Pittsburgh hang around in the opening period despite a poor shooting performance and some good ball movement from the Hokies.
Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma found the ball going in with great regularity while Jalen Cone started to rediscover his rhythm, knocking down three of seven shots from behind the arc.
A lot of clear outs coupled with backdoor screens enabled the ball to be fed to into the post, primarily targeting Aluma and Mutts. Unfortunately, the rest of the team could not join in on the action.
The Panthers came out in the second half doubling off of Wabissa Bede as opposed to trapping the ball handler on screen and rolls, forcing him to become a shooter. Bede looked timid, pump faking and stopping the ball with alarming repetitiveness.
Although perimeter shooting is not his strong suit, Bede must force the opposition to play him somewhat honestly or else he will allow teams to play five-on-four against the rest of his team.
While Aluma provided a consistent output for Virginia Tech, other members of the roster looked tired and defeated. Tech struggled to find open looks and with Nahiem Alleyne, Jalen Cone and Hunter Cattoor struggling for offense, the Hokies’ had no chance of coming back.
The forward pairing of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts shone for the Hokies in defeat, combining for 47 points, 16 rebounds and five assists.
Aluma in particular was special, adding to his 30 points (10-16 FG, 4-7 3PT) with a career-high five assists and third straight game with double-digit rebounds (10).
Aluma seems to be taking the mid-season leap a school like Virginia Tech needs their star to make, leaving the door open to more major wins later in the season.
Justyn Mutts was entrusted with a game-high 38 minutes and came away with 17 points, six rebounds, a steal and a block. As discussed previously, Mutts’ development since arriving in Blacksburg has been paramount to the Hokies’ renewed success.
The junior forward appears to be seeing the game at a slower rate, allowing him to map his spots and make better decisions than when he first joined the roster.
Hunter Cattoor managed to join the double-digit scoring with 12 points, including a three in the midst of the fatal Pittsburgh run, though the majority of his points were scored after the home team had firmly secured the momentum.
Foul trouble limited the sophomore guard’s minutes to just 24 after playing 31 four days prior and forced VT’s most feared shooter to ride the bench while the Panthers pulled away.
The Hokies entered tip-off with a league-leading 13 wins and only three losses, including four wins over ranked opponents.
VT showcased their ability to the basketball world last weekend, defeating the #8 Virginia Cavaliers 65-51 and outscoring them 44-22 in the second half.
While Mike Young is typically thought of as an offensive-minded coach, Virginia Tech currently ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in defensive efficiency.
Although they have not reached the same ranks as the Hokies, Pittsburgh has had a productive season.
Led by ACC Player of the Year candidate in Justin Champagnie (20.1 points, 12.1 rebounds), Pitt started their season 8-2 before dropping three straight entering the weeknight matchup.
The Panthers do not shoot a great percentage from the field but are tremendously athletic, giving them the ability to steal victories purely from their talent.
“We were just a step off.”
The Hokies' leader kept his postgame presser short and sweet, stating that his team appeared to be slightly off of the pace. Young made sure to credit Pittsburgh and their Head Coach, Jeff Capel, in executing their game plan.
“We weren’t getting it done today. We hang our hat on being the aggressor and we weren’t that today.”
Despite an impressive individual performance, Mutts highlighted the Hokies’ lack of aggression as a defining factor in the final outcome.
“We just have to play our brand of basketball: if we do that, we can go win more games.”
Coming off a career night in scoring and passing, the explosive forward claimed that the team must reestablish their identity in their next game to return to their best.
This one stunk for Hokie fans.
Riding high after a victory in the Commonwealth Clash over #8 UVA, VT failed to put together a complete performance for 40 minutes.
Lackadaisical defending and a failure to bury shots spelled defeat for Mike Young’s bunch who, minus their starting forward pair, shot a lowly 24.2% from the field.
Next up for Virginia Tech is a Miami team that had a look to win the game at the buzzer after making up a seventeen-point second half deficit earlier this season.
One game down, one more to go this week for the surprising Hokie crew.
Polling the People
Instagram: "Pitt just played much harder moments like these we miss Tyrece" -@jacd2375
Instagram: "Awful second half, we need Radford back now" -@geddy_reed