Pitt came into tonight’s game with Virginia Tech riding a three-game losing streak. But the Panthers (9-5) proved their season isn’t over, pulling off its biggest victory of the season — an 83-72 win over the No. 16 ranked Hokies (13-4).
Guards Xavier Johnson and Ithiel Horton didn’t start the game for the Panthers. Ironically, they were arguably their best players.
Johnson turned in what felt like the best game of his career with 32 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two steals. The 32 points were a career-high. Most impressively, he was exceptional from the field, making 11 of his 17 shots. Horton chipped in with 15 points and the pair knocked down a total of eight three-pointers. Virginia Tech got 30 and ten from Keve Aluma but it wasn’t nearly enough.
The game was close at the half, tied at 31. But, as they did against Syracuse a few games back, they really poured it on in the second half, scoring 52. The Panthers shot well, connecting on 50% of their shots in the game and knocked down 22 of 25 free throws.
That Pitt won the game at all was big — but that they did it with a somewhat quiet night offensively from star Justin Champagnie makes it even more notable. Champagnie was certainly active, collecting 13 rebounds. But he had a quieter night on offense, scoring only ten before fouling out.
Pitt found a way to get him only eight shots and that’s simply not enough. Heck, that’s barely enough in a half of action for him given he came into the game shooting over 53% from the floor. That formula worked tonight with surprising results but, well, I’m not expecting these kinds of games from X and Horton with any sort of consistency. Pitt’s going to need to find a way to get him more shots — something we’ve said before. But as long as Pitt gets contributions elsewhere, they can live with Champagnie having quiet nights on occasion.
For now, I’ll take the win. And it feels especially good, given the three-game losing streak. I personally think this team is too good to go on the kind of slides we’ve seen the last two years under head coach Jeff Capel. Plus, the conference is not the world beater this year as it often is. But I’m sure the thought is there for some — the Panthers going on some sort of incredulous run of losing to end the year. Last year, Pitt lost eight of its last nine games. The year before, they lost 14 o their final 16.
Sure, I suppose we could see this team do a bit of stumbling the rest of the way. But they also strike me as too good to go on a similar losing streak as they have the last couple of seasons.
Streak broken — now let’s start adding some more wins.