Pitt falls flat at Virginia Tech, loses 67-57

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Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson darts past a Clemson defender.

By Marshall Worth, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball (15-11 overall, 6-9 ACC) fell victim to the dreaded trap game Saturday night, losing 67-57 to the struggling Virginia Tech Hokies (15-10 overall, 6-8 ACC). The convincing win snapped the Hokies’ five-game losing streak and allowed them to leapfrog Pitt in the ACC standings.

The defensive woes from Wednesday’s blowout loss against Clemson followed Pitt to Blacksburg, as Virginia Tech made a whopping 12 3-pointers, dwarfing Pitt’s five.

Virginia Tech, known for frequent 3-point shooting and fast-paced offense, played to its strengths and controlled the game’s tempo from the opening tip. After slow offensive starts for each team, the Hokies began to pull away, embarking on a 17-3 run as the first half winded down. The run featured four threes, including one from junior forward P.J. Horne. Not known for his abilities as a scorer, Horne nevertheless led Virginia Tech’s offensive attack with 16 points and four threes — both career highs.

The Panthers’ youth became apparent throughout the game, as mistakes compounded and sloppiness took center stage. Careless Pitt turnovers lead to easy layups for the Hokies and a failure to close out on 3-pointers paved the way for Virginia Tech’s staggering outside shooting numbers.

Both offenses played aggressively, though only the Hokies cashed in on their efforts. Pitt won the free-throw battle by driving into traffic and drawing fouls. Pitt got to the line 18 times compared to six for Virginia Tech, but converted only 10 of those. Virginia Tech’s drives, on the other hand, caused Pitt’s defense to collapse inward, creating space on the wings for open looks.

A late Panther surge kept the score within single digits at halftime, but the dull play from the first half carried over after the break. Errant shot attempts from first-year forward Justin Champagnie led to five quick points for Virginia Tech, who scored 14 in the first five minutes. Pitt fought back and competed over the course of the second half, but one step forward often led to two steps back.

But as they have in multiple road games this season, the Panthers pulled strong minutes out of a disastrous first half later in the game. Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson scored in the first half but heated up for 11 points after the break. Johnson helped fuel Pitt’s seperate 7-0 and 8-0 runs, but he and the Panthers proved incapable of sustaining success on offense over the course of the game.

With under 10 minutes remaining, Champagnie made a forceful putback dunk that felt like a momentum-shifting moment, but Virginia Tech responded with a corner three from Horne. Pitt trimmed the deficit to six — the smallest since before halftime — with under three minutes left, but Virginia Tech responded with back-to-back threes, putting the game out of reach.

Champagnie joined sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney as Pitt’s high scorers with 12 points apiece. The duo combined for 14 rebounds as well. Sophomore guard Trey McGowens turned in a complete performance with eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the loss.

The Panthers will look to bounce back Tuesday, but face an uphill battle when they travel to Tallahassee, Florida, for a tough road contest with No. 8 Florida State.

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