Early foul trouble all but derailed the Pittsburgh Panthers (12-14, 2-11) hopes of knocking off the Virginia Tech Hokies (20-5, 9-4) at home on Saturday night. Kene Chukwuka got the start, but picked up two personal fouls within the games opening two minutes. By the 13:35 mark, Terrell Brown joined him on the bench as he also picked up 2 fouls.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech found an undisputed rhythm on offense amidst Pitt’s foul trouble and forced them into several unforced turnovers on the other end. Kerry Blackshear Jr. got anything he wanted early. Going into the under-12 media timeout he had 10 points, 4 rebounds and was a perfect 3-3 for the field including 2 three-pointers. His second triple put the Hokies up 17-6 and it looked like they were on complete cruise control.
The Panthers didn’t just let VT coast in the fast lane, however. They connected three times from beyond the arc during a 15-5 run going into the under-4 media timeout that brought them within ones, 21-22. Kham Davis splashed another three-pointer shortly after to give Pitt their first lead of the game. The lead was short-lived as Blackshear began drawing fouls and converting everything from the charity stripe.
A strong defensive effort by the Panthers kept them within striking distance of Virginia Tech for most of the second half. But every time Pitt made it a one possession game, Blackshear was there with a momentum stopping layup. Chukwuka picked up his third foul at the 11:17 mark, which also saw the return of Nickiel Alexander-Walker for the Hokies who was saddled with three first half fouls.
On what made Blackshear such a difficult cover, Chukwuka said after the game, “I think part of it was me and Terrell picked up two fouls early...he’s a really good player. I don’t really have an excuse, he just played a really good game.”
He connected on a triple at the 10:28 mark that started a 5-0 run, which gave VT a 48-41 advantage. However, he picked up his fourth foul on an offensive charge shortly after. That didn’t ultimately matter, as Blackshear once again answered the bell for Virginia Tech. His make from beyond the arc started a 9-0 run in which the Hokies connected on all three of their three-point attempts, sandwiched between two Panthers turnovers. It allowed VT grab a 57-46 advantage at the 5:44 mark and they never looked back.
Despite their best efforts, they came up short once again. Virginia Tech escaped with a 70-64 victory.
On the 9-0 that included sloppy play by Pitt, head coach Jeff Capel said, “We have to understand the value and importance of every possession.”
The Panthers were led by the 18 points of Johnson. Sidy N’Dir (12) and Trey McGowens (10) also reached double-figures, N’Dir also led the team in rebounds with 6.
Pitt did manage to get to the free throw line 20 times in the second half, but only converted 12 of them. On how his team managed to get to the charity stripe so much, Davis talked about an emphasis on moving the basketball and “Attacking as a team.”
Blackshear led all scorers with 29 points on a super efficient 8-9 from the field and 10-11 from the free throw line. He also made all three of triples and added 3 assists as well.
Capel on Blackshear: “He’s really good and he’s gotten better over his time there. I am not sure that there’s a better post player in the ACC, that’s currently playing.”
The Panthers will look to end their current losing conference losing streak next Wednesday against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-15, 3-10).