PITTSBURGH — Pitt lost a game that it probably should have won Tuesday night, as Virginia Tech erased a 13-point deficit on the way to a 66-63 come-from-behind win at the Pete.
It was a game Pitt had in hand an the team — and in particular the team’s seniors — did not answer the bell in the second half. Pitt scored just 23 points in the second half as not much went right for the Panthers. Head coach Kevin Stallings didn’t mince words when asked about the performance of his team in the second half.
“I am very disappointed in that second half performance,” he said. “It’s happened all season long. Our lack of on-court direction really showed, I thought, as the game went down the stretch tonight. It was a lack of a guy out there that can run the show and can get people organized. They played better in the second half than we did and we had too many turnovers. I thought Cam [Johnson] played well. Cam gave us a great effort from start to finish. They did a better job of locating him in the second half of locating him. I can’t really explain how you go from one half to another like that, and that’s happened on several occasions this year. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Pitt, now 3-10 in ACC play, didn’t have any margin for error if the Panthers wanted to hold onto their slim postseason hopes, and to put it bluntly, they could not afford to lose to a team like the Hokies. It was made even more crucial by considering that Virginia Tech was coming off a double-overtime game against Virginia less than 48 hours beforehand, was missing their top rebounder and second-leading assist man in Chris Clarke and started the game 1 for 6 while Pitt went on a 12-3 opening-game run and led by 11 at halftime.
“It hurts,” Johnson said. “We had it. We played well in the first half and came out in the second half with a lack of urgency and it cost us.”
Despite their subpar performance, Stallings played his starting five all 20 minutes of the second half.
“They did not play hard enough to get tired in the second half,” Stallings said. “I kept asking them, ‘Are you tired?’ They said ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’. All the way up until the very end. Not one guy was tired.”
Pitt jumped out to the big early lead thanks to 3-point shooting, as Johnson hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc before the break. But at the end of the game, that pendulum swung the other way. Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen made 3-pointer with 1:08 left to give the Hokies a lead and then Johnson, Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter all missed 3-point attempts on Pitt’s final possession as the Panthers sought to tie the game.
Pitt let Virginia Tech back in the game with one big possession. After a Panthers turnover, Ahmed Hill raced down the floor for what looked to be an uncontested layup. Michael Young ran him down from behind and fouled him, but Hill still made the shot for two points. Young was called for a flagrant foul on the play, giving Hill two free throws and Virginia Tech the ball back. Hill made both and then Seth Bibbs hits a 3-pointer on the inbounds play, giving the Hokies seven points in one second of clock time.
“The seven-point play was huge,” Johnson said. “They went from being down six to up one very quickly. I feel like we put it back together but ultimately it hurt us.”
“It was really big,” Stallings added. “We should not have fouled the guy on the layup. It cost us five more points.”
Pitt will host Florida State on Saturday, as the Panthers, who already had the No. 2 strength of schedule in the NCAA, will only have a tougher road going forward. They still have games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest to go and they probably won’t be favored in any of them.
“We aren’t going to change our outlook,” Johnson said. “We have to get back to work and go on another winning streak. We have to beat teams that people don’t think we’re supposed to beat. Our urgency level has to be higher, so we will go back, focus in, and get back after it.”