Xavier Johnson, Pitt Too Much for Hokies to Handle in 83-72 Loss

Poor shooting and the inability to stop the Panthers' junior guard led to Virginia Tech’s road demise.

[Pitt Athletics]

Jeff Capel's Pittsburgh Panthers came to play on Wednesday night, completely dominating Virginia Tech in an 83-72 win.

Pitt, which entered the matchup against the No. 16 Hokies on a three-game losing streak, instead looked like the team that started ACC play with four wins in five tries.

Even with Justin Champagnie accounting for only half of his scoring output, he dropped 10 instead of his usual 20, the Panthers found success through Xavier Johnson's outstanding 32 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Champagnie was still active, though, and secured his ACC-leading eighth double-double of the season.

The Hokies couldn't sustain a run and missed Tyrece Radford's ability to push the ball into the paint.

"They played better than we did," Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. "They were more physical. We had absolutely no answer for Johnson."

"We beat a very good basketball team," Capel said. "I thought we fought. We looked like the team we've been the majority of the season. ... I thought our guys stepped up and made shots and made plays. I thought we defended them really well."

Tech, coming off an important win in the Commonwealth Clash over then-No. 8 UVa, couldn't buy a basket outside of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts.

After scoring a career-high 29 points against the Cavaliers on Saturday, Aluma one-upped himself with 30. He added ten rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Mutts played well, too, with 17 points, his season-high, and six boards.

Outside of that duo, which accounted for 47 of Tech's 72 points (65%), only Hunter Cattoor scored in double figures with 12 and the Hokies shot 41%.

"You have to put things in the basket to have them questioning some things," Young said. "They're picking up 35-36 feet and pushing you away a bit. I don't think we were very good on either end. Pitt shoots 50% and scores 80 points. Not a very good night. I'd be remiss if I didn't credit Pittsburgh."

Pitt's defense was good, switching between man and zone on occasion and forcing eight turnovers. While allowing Tech's frontcourt to have a day, the backcourt couldn't seem to find a rhythm.

Where Aluma and Mutts made 17 of their 28 attempts (61%), the other six Hokies were eight-for-35 (23%). Outside of Cattoor, only Jalen Cone (nine points, 3-9 3FG) made more than one basket.

To add to the dominant defensive performance, the Panthers got out in transition, which blew the game open. Pitt posted 10 fastbreak points, with six from Johnson and four from Au'Diese Toney. He was extremely complementary to Johnson and Champagnie on the night with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Tied at 31 at intermission, Tech completely faltered in the second half, allowing a 13-0 run that helped the Panthers clinch their fifth ACC win. Pitt hit three of its nine three-pointers during that stretch and ran away with it from there, as Tech never pulled closer than 11 after that.

"I thought we looked like the team that we've been the majority of the season," Capel said. "We had a three-game stretch where we didn't play well. I'm not going to say we panicked, but there was a sense of urgency. In the second half, we were able to get into a rhythm offensively and the guys made some big-time plays.

"Most teams have gone through stretches where they haven't played well for various reasons. I tried to be patient and hold them accountable, and we responded."

Tech was competitive on the boards (33-31, Pitt) and its eight turnovers were only one more than Pitt, but the scoring drought in the second half took the Hokies out of the game.

The Panthers seemed to get everything they wanted against what was the ACC's second-most efficient defense entering the day, shooting 50% and scoring 47 points off the bench.

"We got spooked when a couple of threes went down," Young said. "It's like we went away from our principles and got spread out a little bit, and they got downhill with Johnson and Toney. In one of the few instances in 17 games this year, we didn't adhere to principles that have served us quite well this season."

The abandonment of those tenets allowed Pitt to hit 58% of its field goals in the second half and hit five of nine attempts from behind the arc.

The Panthers also got to the free throw line an outstanding 25 times and converted 22 of those attempts. 19 of those trips to the stripe came in the second half, and Pitt made 17.

"We were just a step off where we needed to be. Pittsburgh was the more physical team. They were the tougher team, and that's been a category that typically favors the Hokies. They were more hungry and more desperate, and credit to Coach Capel and his staff. They righted the ship and outplayed us tonight."

Up Next: Miami

The schedule doesn't get any easier from here for Young & Co.

In five ACC road tests, the Hokies are 2-3. Only one of those — last Wednesday's 62-51 win over Notre Dame — was a dominant performance. The Hokies had a close loss at Louisville and a close win at Wake Forest, but two really poor performances at Syracuse and Pitt.

Tech has trips to Tallahassee, Chapel Hill and Raleigh still left on the docket.

The Hurricanes are on a high after sneaking past Duke in Coral Gables on Monday in a 77-75 win. Previously, Miami (7-10, 3-9 ACC) had lost four straight games.

In the December meeting between the Hokies and 'Canes in Blacksburg, Tech escaped with an 80-78 victory.

Four Miami players scored in double figures and Jim Larrañaga's side dropped 38 points in the paint in the close loss. To add to Tech's subpar defensive effort, Miami shot 54%. The Hokies' saving grace was the 19 turnovers they forced, which slowed the Hurricanes down.

26 points from Aluma, 15 points and nine rebounds from Mutts and 13 and nine from Radford led the way for Tech in that win.

The Hokies engineered a victory, but it'll be a much more difficult task this time around in the Watsco Center, especially coming off a disappointing performance in Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, Virginia Tech is 3-0 this season after losses, evidence that Young prepares his team to bounce back.

The Hokies need to do just that on Saturday.

Comments

Disparity in fouls and just plain poor shooting from the outside. Hokies rip your heart out and then show it to you. Maybe looked a little emotionally drained. Also, when you are ranked, that target on your back gets really big. Great teams handle that and we are close but not quite there.

foresthokie
US Navy Vet

Nice article. This is why we are just not there yet. What this teams needs is a point guard who can calm things down when they get a little out of sync and a guard who can hit that clutch shot when you really need it to stop the bleeding. Kind of like what Pitt had tonight. On offense, it's like we are playing with 4 players. Pitt sat off of our point guard and doubled where they had to because there was no offense threat from the point.

Yes, we need a JRob clone. Leg to you.

foresthokie
US Navy Vet

Leg for beating me to the exact comment I was going to post.

This was about defense more than offense. The Hokies scored 72 points which is more than the Hokies have allowed in all but three games this season(Miami - win, Villanova - win, Louisville - loss) and now a fourth with Pitt. The Hokies allowed Pitt to shoot 9-23 from the perimeter. This is three more made than their season average. Pitt also shot 50% from the field and 39% from the perimeter, both significantly higher than their season averages.

The major discrepancy in this game was at the free throw line, where Pitt made 22 free throws to the Hokies 13.

There was also at least a five point swing on three officiating mistakes. The early whistle for shot clock violation on the Aluma made basket, a lane violation on one of Pitts made free throws, and I forget the third at the moment. This doesn't touch on the moving screens or the holding on defense but that is unfortunately an every game occurrence with ACC officials.

The lack of scoring by Bede did have a significant impact though, as he and Alleyne were a combined 1-13 from the field, 0-6 from the perimeter, all but one of the six were wide open looks. It was obvious Pitt purposely sagged off Bede and used the extra defender to clog the lane, especially in the second half. The Hokies only managed two offensive rebounds on the twelve misses and two points, so that leaves 11 empty possessions between Bede and Alleyne.

When that happens Bede has to drive and shoot it.

I can only recall one time the entire season where he drove and shot it. His MO has been to drive and then pass or dribble all the way across to the other perimeter and pass again.

I know, why I keep waiting for him to actually drive and lay it up. NOBODY is expecting it at this point. So frustrating to watch him drive it to the basket and then kick it out rather than finishing.

Part of the problem, if I remember correctly, is that his release is so low on the lay up that anyone near him can block the shot. He either does not jump when he goes to the rim; or he releases the ball from about waist high. So almost anyone on the court for an ACC team can just reach over and swat the ball away. I'm probably forgetting a few shots; but I can't remember Bede making driving lay up.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

You mean like this moving screen where #21 moves with Cone trying to climb over it:

Or this one where Bede get pushed aside by a moving player trying to climb over the screen to free up the three:

And the most egregious one, when Bede gets pushed back into the lane to free up the shooter. The screener even throws up his hands into the "I didnt do it" proclaiming his guilt - but no whistle.

I'm sure the ACC office is okay with this, because none of them saw the game due to it being on Regional Sports Networks...

Those three of many or the no calls like when Bede magically slid backwards six feet on his butt but apparently wasn't pushed down. That was another egregious no call.

The Pitt film session is going to be a rough one for Bede. Everyone sags off of him a little bit, but Pitt made it the most obvious. They basically said "you are just as likely to make a three pointer as Shaquille O'Neal." Basketball players get a free year too, right? If so, and he decides to return, Bede has to spend all offseason getting shots up the same way Erick Green did before the 2012 season.

Marshall University graduate.
Virginia Tech fanatic.
Formerly known as JWillHokieAlum.

Yes, all winter sports receive the extra year. There will be three Hokies that have a decision to make. Bede, Pemsl, and Diarra.

I love Bede, the 5:1 ATO last night was phenomenal, I also think I remember seeing he's one of our most efficient defenders and he's an effective rebounder at his height.

But he is one hell of a liability trying to score, and it may as well be 4 on 5 (or 8 depending on officiating) when we're on offense.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

This has been Bede his entire career though. I don't expect anything to change even if he were to come back for a 6th year. It's just not in his game for whatever reason and he's pretty late in the development curve (basically past it) for him to learn it now. He doesn't shoot it very well. But what stands out more is he doesn't even attempt to score. There's stretches where he passes up wide open 3s that the offense has created and he'll pass out where we have to work harder to get something else. He doesn't drive to score even though he'll have lanes. He doesn't drive to initiate contact to draw fouls either which is something I think every guard should be able to do. He's basically out there to help get the ball from point A to point B. But his deficiencies become glaring when someone else on the team is having an off night. Last night, Alleyne really struggled. Cone didn't play all that well either. Bede just doesn't have the fire power or mentality to fill in if anyone else is off. Ideally, his game fits more as a back up PG/role player. A guy that give you defensive minutes, keep the ball moving, give some guys a rest, work in certain match ups. That's why his game fit so well with J-Rob/Hill/Blackshear/NAW. But for this team, we don't really have anyone with enough pure talent to play ahead of Bede's experience so we have to play him in significant starter level minutes. When everyone is on, its ok. His skills in the rest of his game are an asset. But if someone is off, things get difficult.

If the defense is playing well, Bede adds enough value that he can overcome his offensive weaknesses. Giving up 80 points will mean that he is a liability. If the team gives up 65, then there was enough to win last night, even with his offensive challenges. CMY has repeatedly said that Bede is the glue - especially on defense. Yeah, we might have scored 15 more points with a more offense minded player, but would they have scored 90 and still beat us?

Lots of players in the NBA older than Bede add a 3 point shot to their repertoire. Bruce Bowen didn't become a 3 and D player until he was almost 30. He added the corner 3 and basically created the 3 and D position.

For one, Bede isn't an NBA player. It's not a fair comparison from NBA to college players (even though I'm gonna do it anyway). Those players have the basic skills, time (and it takes a lot of time which you have when you're a pro) and access to training and coaching (stuff that college players just don't have access to) to add different things to their game as time goes on. Also, just because there are players that do, doesn't mean that they all can do it. It's possible, but its not likely. For every Bowen, or Jason Kidd, or big guys like Marc Gasol or Brook Lopez that significantly alter an aspect of their game, there's tons of others that never develop brand new abilities. On aggregate, players at this age aren't going to expand much beyond what their skillsets are. They can polish and develop skills that may have been underdeveloped, but they likely aren't going to completely add something they've shown no ability to do so before. There's a reason NBA teams rather draft kids that are 18 to 20 than 22+. It's easier to learn and develop between those ages. Players have their biggest jumps there. The older you get, the less likely you are to see larger gains. You're not just asking Bede to develop a 3 point shot. Teaching someone to say, shoot 3s, isn't all that hard if their basic shooting form is coming from a good base. But this is beyond Bede hitting 3s. You're basically asking him to change the way he plays, by actually looking to score on top of building up the ability to score. It's changing his mentality and his skills. That's a tall task and if it is doable, its the kind of change that usually takes years, not just an offseason. He hasn't shown that that kind of player is lurking beneath the surface in 5 years and you think he can do it in a theoretical 6th year? The odds are he is who he is at this point. He's not a bad player. The things he does do well can help plenty of teams. But I also don't expect him to be much better than he's shown.

UVA ducks us but then agrees to play Pitt on Saturday after Louisville went on pause.

Wise choice by them. They had time to prepare and got a 14 point beat down. Imagine what it would have been with no prep. You don't want this Aluma smoke, UVA!!!