Men’s Basketball: Pitt plays host to lowly Hokies, look to end home slide


Just one member of Pitt’s team — forward Durand Johnson — has been plagued with injury in the 2013-2014 season, and the Panthers have avoided off-the-court trouble.

“This is a focused group, no question,” head coach Jamie Dixon said last month. “We have eight guys who have a 3.0 [GPA] and no arrests. They are doing the right things.”

Second-season Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson, whose last-place team will square off against Dixon’s third-place Panthers on Saturday, hasn’t been so lucky.

One Virginia Tech player left the team in December, and another was ruled ineligible to play by the NCAA before the season began.

In addition, Virginia Tech played without three starters in Wednesday’s 70-50 loss at Florida State, and the same story could follow Saturday at noon when the Hokies (8-14, 1-9 ACC) play the No. 25 Panthers (19-4, 7-3 ACC) at the Petersen Events Center.

Redshirt sophomore guard Adam Smith sustained a calf injury and will not play until next week, while the fates of junior forward C.J. Barksdale, who has a strained groin, and sophomore forward Marshall Wood, who has the flu, remain unknown.

On top of his groin strain, Barksdale was sidelined with knee and ankle injuries, as well as the flu, and he missed the first three games of the season because of suspension.

Smith is Virginia Tech’s third-leading scorer at 11 points per game, and Barksdale is fifth with 8.6 points per game. Wood, a 6-foot-8 role player, collects 4.1 rebounds per game.

In the midst of Virginia Tech’s injury mayhem last month, Johnson expressed his frustration during an ACC coaches’ teleconference.

“I’m not sure what this team is really capable of yet because we haven’t had everybody together yet,” Johnson said. “And I rarely have everyone together in practice.”

Johnson will face a Pitt team that is out for revenge after losing rare back-to-back home games at the Petersen Events Center, faltering against Duke and Virginia.

But Johnson’s battered Hokies might catch the Panthers — who shot just 34.8 percent from the field in their past three games — at a vulnerable stage.

“It’s been a couple of tough last games, and we were able to duke it out this game,” Pitt guard Cameron Wright told reporters after the Panthers’ 59-55 overtime victory against Miami on Wednesday night.

Senior guard Lamar Patterson emerged from a minor slump against Miami, providing the difference in what could have been an ugly loss for the Panthers. Patterson ended the game with 25 points and four assists, with seven points coming in the overtime period.

Patterson said he was ready to get back to the form that brought him three ACC Player of the Week honors.

“Being a senior leader, I didn’t want to just become a ghost when it came to overtime,” Patterson said to reporters after the game. “My team looked to me, and I just wanted to come through for them.”

“Seniors are supposed to step up, and when it comes to crunch time, younger guys look to you when the game gets tight,” he added.

Patterson has now scored double figures in 21 consecutive games.

Wright chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds Wednesday, which was a career-high in boards, and sophomore point guard James Robinson recorded six rebounds and five points.

Robinson, who leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.74, will be guarded by Virginia Tech freshman point guard and Montour High School graduate Devin Wilson.

Wilson was leading the ACC in assists for the majority of the season but has slipped to sixth place in recent weeks, averaging 4.4 to go with his nine points and 3.5 rebounds per game.