Pitt men’s basketball squanders key opportunity against Virginia Tech, 79-72


Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP

Virginia Tech’s Mylyjael Poteat (34) score past Pittsburgh’s Guillermo Diaz Graham (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball (19-8, 12-4 ACC) felt confident going into Saturday afternoon’s game with a six-game winning streak in conference play. Virginia Tech (16-11, 6-10 ACC), on the other hand, recently lost to Georgia Tech and its NCAA tournament hopes were slipping away. 

However, the Panthers were the ones who squandered a chance at improving their tournament resume as the Hokies earned a crucial home win 79-72. In a game defined by fouls, Virginia Tech saw five players finish with double-digit point totals while Pitt never looked comfortable on either end of the floor. 

The Panthers’ guard play was on point early with graduate student guards Greg Elliott and Nelly Cummings each hitting a pair of field goals by the 16:44 mark. 

Virginia Tech came out sloppy and could not thrive off of its home crowd’s energy. The Hokies turned the ball over twice and committed four fouls in the first five minutes of the half. 

The Hokies eventually recovered and capitalized on careless play from Pitt, going on a 12-0 run that gave them a seven-point lead. 

Pitt largely shied away from its strengths in the first half, attempting just six three-pointers with their first make coming more than 13 minutes into the game. Their focus shifted toward working the ball inside and scoring from inside the arc, but that philosophy resulted in a disjointed performance. 

Virginia Tech entered halftime with a 41-30 lead. Graduate student forward Grant Basille led the Hokies in scoring with 13 points and was the only player that finished with double-digits in the half. Graduate student guard Jamarius Burton paced the Panthers with nine points on four of nine shooting 

The Panthers had trouble cracking the Hokies’ defense for most of the first half and looked lethargic at points. They committed six turnovers and struggled freeing their shooters for opportunities from deep while failing to ever gain momentum. 

Pitt’s defense, meanwhile, could not contain Virginia Tech’s offense. They committed 10 team fouls and sent the Hokies to the free throw line 11 times. The Hokies also shot 56% from the field, including five for 12 from three-point range. 

The Hokies had their way with the Panthers inside too, as they recorded 18 points in the paint and out-rebounded Pitt 17 to 15 in the first half. 

The Panthers came out of halftime with renewed energy and put the pressure on the Hokies, cutting their lead to single-digits and drawing three fouls within the first minute and a half. 

Both teams were cautious of a quick whistle to start the half, as there were a combined 10 fouls called by the 16:34 mark. As a result, Pitt entered the bonus early at the 15:40 mark. 

Elliott and first-year forward Guillermo Diaz Graham orchestrated a 7-0 run that cut the Virginia Tech lead to five points after the Hokies had a game-high 12 point advantage earlier in the half. 

Federiko and junior forward Blake Hinson both committed their fourth fouls early in the half, placing Pitt in a precarious situation. The Panthers, despite some unusual lineup combinations, hung around and matched Virginia Tech’s offensive output for most of the half. 

Hinson and Federiko re-entered the game with six and a half minutes left and Pitt down 14 points. Head coach Jeff Capel’s hand was forced with the game in the balance, but Hinson quickly fouled out on a charge.

A back-and-forth finish to the half didn’t bode well for Pitt, as the Hokies ended up securing the victory. The Panthers couldn’t put together a string of stops on the defensive end, which hurt them at several different points late in the game. 

When Pitt isn’t shooting well from three, its offense cannot apply consistent pressure. The Panthers shot three of 18 from deep this game, while Virginia Tech shot nine of 19 from three-point range, leaving them unable to overcome larger deficits.

The Panthers’ loss lowered them from first to third in the ACC standings. Pitt can still come out on top in the conference, but squandering this opportunity could come back to bite them down the stretch. 

The Panthers’ ACC schedule continues with a home game against Georgia Tech on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.