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Pitt falls to No. 14 Virginia, 73-66

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt men’s basketball team played No. 14 Virginia close on Saturday. But a key run in the second half was the difference as the Cavaliers went on for a 73-66 win.

For a half, things were quite close. Pitt (9-6) led for much of the first half before trailing only 30-27 at the break. But Virginia (13-4) went on a 16-0 run to turn a tie game into a 52-36 advantage. The Panthers would continue to fight back but ended up falling short.

Pitt didn’t play a terrible game, really. They scored 39 second-half points, won the rebounding battle (32-28), and had fewer turnovers than Virginia. But they ran into a buzz saw in the second half and simply couldn’t keep up.

Offensively is where the team struggled. They made a modest 43% of their shots, made only 4-14 free throws, and scored only 27 in the first half. It should be said that part of the reason the Panthers were even in the game in the first half, frankly, was because Virginia was not playing that well. Pitt got only two points combined from Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney in the first 20 minutes. Typically, you’d expect that to put them down significantly. Yet, there the Panthers were, right in it because the Cavaliers struggled offensively themselves.

Pitt was led by Justin Champagnie, who recorded yet another double double. His 18 points led the Panthers and he was the only player in the game to get into double digits in rebounding. I liked that he got 18 shots and he rewarded the team by making eight of them. Sam Hauser led all scorers with 23 for Virginia.

It’s not a game you expect to win if you’re Pitt. It was one that was scheduled late due to Covid protocol canceling the Panthers’ game with Florida State. And while the game was a change for both teams, Pitt also had to travel and go on the road. Still, the end result was frustrating, given that Pitt had played Virginia to a tie until that run in the second half, despite getting very little from Johnson and Toney to that point in the game. The pair combined for 18 points but Johnson shot only 3-12 from the field. Guard Ithiel Horton was the team’s second-best scorer, chipping in with 15 points.

Virginia might have taken a while to get going but ultimately shot better than 53% from the field. The Panthers have allowed opponents to have really great nights shooting the ball and, while you might dismiss a few games like that simply to teams just not missing much, you ultimately get to a point where the defense has to be better. For a half, it was fine but the Panthers could have defended the three-point line better. It was there where the Cavaliers really thrived, hitting 12 of their 24 attempts from long distance.

Tough game and things don’t get any easier immediately for the Panthers with a road game against 11-4 Louisville on Wednesday.

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