After a stunning loss at Georgia Tech, some may have wondered what this team may have left in the tank for the rest of the regular season especially since that loss seemed to destroy any remaining hope for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Instead, they showed their veteran resilience and leaned on their secret weapon, Cassell Coliseum
Virginia Tech (16-11, 6-10 ACC) was at home in the comfortable confines of Cassell when they took down the scorching hot Pittsburgh Panthers (19-8, 12-4 ACC) on Saturday 79-72.
Tech is now 12-3 in Cassell Coliseum, which Pitt head coach Jeff Capel considers “one of the toughest environments in the ACC, and college basketball.”
Something unique about this 2023 Virginia Tech team is that it always seems to play to its opponent, a trend that continued today.
It started on the defensive end, as the Hokies held the Panthers, a team that makes 9.2 three’s per game, to 3-18 from beyond the arc. However, it certainly helped that Blake Hinson, who averages over 15 points a game and paces Pitt in three-pointers-made, was in foul trouble for most of the second half, and would exit the game with just four points scored.
In addition to Hinson, Federiko Federiko and Nelly Cummings were plagued with fouls, forcing Capel to throw out a number of lineups that the Panthers would not typically use.
Jamarius Burton ended up leading the Panthers with 15, playing all 40 minutes in the contest.
Fouls were a big story in the game, especially early on in the second half, when the Panthers entered the bonus with 15:40 still remaining in the game. Boos could be heard from the whole crowd, but both coaches declined to comment on the reffing postgame.
One player who persevered through the calls - Mylyjael Poteat. The reserve big played his best game in a Tech uniform, putting up 15 points and six boards in 20 minutes off the bench.
The transfer from Rice dominated the paint, and VT head coach Mike Young raved about the performance.
“He was great,” said Young. “Great interior passing…he’s got great hands, and he’s physical, and he’s got a rear end as broad as the front of a Buick. He’s working better and sealing people…he gives a lot of versatility defensively.”
This comes in the first matchup between VT and Pitt on the court since Poteat chose the Hokies over the Panthers when exiting the transfer portal. Imagine how different history might have played out if Poteat went to Pitt instead? That's likely only a what if Pitt fans are asking after this game.
Five Hokies ended up in double digits with Grant Basile leading the bunch with 22 points. This is the grad transfer’s fourth straight outing of 20+ points, and he has now scored the most points in ACC play of any player in the conference.
“Very, very impressive,” Young noted on Basile’s recent stretch. “He’s had a good year for us…over the past three weeks, month, he’s really found his groove offensively…I am proud of Grant Basile and thrilled to have the opportunity to coach him.”
The core of Mutts, Cattoor, and Pedulla contributed 12 apiece, each doing what they do best. Mutts and Pedulla facilitated, injecting the crowd with excitement via a few slams from Mutts, in addition to an ankle-breaking dribble from Pedulla that really got the Cassell Crowd going.
Cattoor scored all 12 of his points via the three. His return has been very important for the Hokie offense considering the loss of Darius Maddox’s shooting soon after, with Maddox having been absent from the team since late January due to family related issues.
Maddox’s replacement in the starting lineup, MJ Collins, continues to show his resilience to Tech fans, already fighting through a broken nose. Today, the freshman bounced back from a scary fall late, again emphasizing how tough the South Carolina native is.
“It’d kill me,” Young commented on the injury Collins fought through. “Bless his heart, he goes to the rim…he’s got a flippin' mask on!”
This was the Panthers first loss since January 21, and puts them a game behind Virginia in the ACC race.
The Hokies on the other hand continue on in this tough stretch as they try to position themselves better for the ACC Tournament, hosting No. 15 Miami on Tuesday before heading down to Durham to take on an improving Duke team next weekend with both games currently being Q1 win opportunities.