Virginia Tech had been off to its best nine-game ACC start in program history, but the Panthers secured the upset on the strength of a 19-5 burst in the second half. Pittsburgh scored 52 points over the final 20 minutes — more than the Hokies had permitted in either of their two previous games.
“Just as good as we’ve been defensively, to allow 83 points to a Pittsburgh team that has struggled to score at times during the course of the year, they shot 50 percent,” Hokies Coach Mike Young said. “We’ve been so good defensively. We were not that team tonight, and that’s disappointing.”
Keve Aluma led Virginia Tech with a career-high 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, his third consecutive double-double. Justyn Mutts added 17 points, and Hunter Cattoor scored 12 before fouling out.
The Hokies shot 41 percent overall and 30 percent (9 for 30) on three-pointers.
Junior guard Xavier Johnson had a career-high 32 points, including 18 in the second half, for Pittsburgh. The Woodbridge native made 11 of 17 shots to go along with seven assists and five rebounds. Johnson was one of four Panthers to score in double figures amid Coach Jeff Capel’s lineup shuffle.
“I don’t think we necessarily scouted him as a shooter, so we were going under a lot of ball screens, and he was able to make a few and knock it down today,” Mutts said of Johnson. “At the end of the day he’s a good player, and good players are going to make big-time shots, and that’s what he did today.”
Foul trouble plagued the Hokies midway through the second half, allowing Pittsburgh to open a double-digit lead. Starting guard Nahiem Alleyne picked up his fourth foul, and moments later, Cattoor, a reserve guard, also went to the bench with four.
Pittsburgh followed with a three-pointer from Ithiel Horton and two by Johnson to expand the margin to 63-55 with 6:21 to go, prompting a timeout from Young. Aluma had a layup on the ensuing inbound play but missed, and the Panthers got Au’Diese Toney’s layup and three-pointer for a 68-55 lead.
“They’re definitely a physical team, but like I said, I just think they wanted it more than us,” said Aluma, who for a second straight game finished with a career high in points. “I mean that includes physicality and just being more locked in than we were.”
The Hokies began their second week without starting guard Tyrece Radford, who is suspended indefinitely following an arrest for driving under the influence and carrying a concealed weapon, both Class 1 misdemeanors.
Radford and his attorney appeared Wednesday in Montgomery County General District Court in Christiansburg, Va., where he was found guilty on the DUI charge. He also pleaded no contest to the weapons charge, which could be dismissed after a year of good behavior.
The third-year sophomore who has started 43 of 46 games over his career was sentenced to a 60-day suspended jail sentence and a fine of $1,000, $750 of which was suspended.
The Hokies’ second-leading scorer and rebounder was suspended Jan. 25 when Young learned of Radford’s arrest by Blacksburg police. Virginia Tech went on to won its first two games without Radford last week, beating Notre Dame, 62-51, and the Cavaliers, 65-51.
That stretch was the first time in program history the Hokies, ranked third in the ACC in scoring defense (63.8 points) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (41.5), had limited consecutive conference opponents to 51 points or fewer.
The strong defense continued in the early stages of the first half against Pittsburgh, particularly in guarding the three-point line. The Panthers missed their first six attempts before Johnson (Bishop O’Connell High) came off the bench to make three straight shots from behind the arc.
The Washington Post first-team All-Met selection had started 78 of 79 games entering Wednesday.
Mutts countered with plenty offensive firepower in the first half, making 5 of 7 shots, including Virginia Tech’s final four points, to tie the score at 31 going into the break before the Hokies fizzled defensively.
“Let’s be honest,” Young said. “Pittsburgh was the more physical team. They were the tougher team tonight, and that’s been a category that typically favors the Hokies. It did not tonight, and lesson learned that you better pack that lunch pail every night.”