PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Panthers battled back, it appeared helpless at halftime, yet the Pitt shot 70.8% in the second half to cut a 27-point deficit to six with 8:22 to play. Pitt (8-15, 3-9) would get as close as three, but with only eight seconds left, as Virginia Tech (13-10, 5-7) rode a near perfect first half to a 76-71 win at the Petersen Events Center Saturday night.
“The shooting display they had in the first half was as good as I’ve seen in a long time,” said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “They had us on our heels for the first 20 minutes of the game. Really disappointed and to be quite frank, embarrassed with how we played in the first half.”
“Equally as proud of how well we fought in the second half. Our guys fought every possession, there was a sense of urgency and We have to understand that is what is required for 40 minutes in order to have some semblance of a decent team.”
Hokies shot 75% in the first half, 77% from three (10 of 13 attempts) to build a 49-22 halftime lead. Tech would cool off for much of the second half, but had a key 5-0 run when the Panthers cut it the lead to six.
Overall, Virginia Tech shot 57.8% from the floor and 53.8% from three. Hokies were a plus 13 in rebounding, much of that due to the hot shooting, but seven offensive rebounds. Tech turned that into a 9-2 advantage in second chance points. Averaging 8.4 points a game, Storm Murphy led the Hokies with a season-high 20. Justyn Mutts with 16 points and Nahlem Alleyne with 14 points.
Femi Odukale led all scorers with 25 points. Senior guard Jamarius Burton had 21, Panthers leading scorer John Hugley finished with two points on 1-4 shooting.
“I think he puts too much pressure on himself, so he gets frustrated when he turns over the ball,” Odukale said of Hugley who finished with four turnovers. “Just not playing how he wants to play, just putting more pressure (on himself).”
“He’s got to do everything better,” Capel said as teams are doubling Hugley. “He’s got to understand he can affect the game in more ways than just scoring, at times he’s done that. You can’t get frustrated. You have to play and you have to play every possession.”
“We didn’t do that as a team, I’m not singling him out.”
First Half failure
By the 12:48 mark of the first half, Virginia Tech had already built a 10-point lead as Pitt had one field goal. Tech would go on a stretch of hitting 13 shots in a row during the first half. While the Panthers shot a respectable 8-20, their nine turnovers led to 15 Hokies points.
“We had a talk in the locker room, today I actually spoke up about just playing,” Odukale said. “Sometimes we feel like robots and doing the stuff within the play. We have to be aggressive and take the open looks.”
Over the last three games, Panthers went into halftime trailing by a combined 58 points.
Femi Found It
A third big offensive game from Odukale, the sophomore finished with 25 points. Odukale had 16 against Boston College and 23 against Wake Forest previously. The Brooklyn native really finding the range from three, shooting 8 of 12.
“I told everybody I’m tired of letting everybody down,” Odukale said. “People say I’m struggling, I’m just going to be aggressive and look for my teammates and look for me.”
Saturday’s game with Virginia Tech is one of four in seven days for the Panthers. Pitt at the Hokies on Monday, then will fly directly to Tallahassee playing Florida State at 9p on Wednesday. Will return home around dawn on Thursday and play again Saturday afternoon at home versus NC State.
A rematch with the Hokies in Blacksburg Monday night at 7p. Panthers pregame with Bill Hillgrove, Curtis Aiken and Cale Berger begins at 6:30p on 93.7 The Fan.
“I’m actually going to talk to everybody in a group and tell them what it is before the game starts,” Odukale said of his message on Monday. “It’s going to have to play out like that.”