Pitt to finish regular season with two ACC rematches on the road
March 2, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt's Ryan Luther drives against Virginia Tech in a Jan. 31 matchup with the Hokies at Petersen Events Center. The Panthers cruised, 90-71.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams remembers every detail about his team’s 90-71 loss Jan. 31 against Pitt at Petersen Events Center, even though it is a game he has tried hard to forget.
The Panthers jumped on top and never looked back, stomping to a surprisingly easy win considering Virginia Tech came into the game on a roll in early ACC play. Williams said Pitt was impressive that night and pushed the Hokies around. But he believes his team learned a tough lesson about how hard it needs to play just to compete against — much less beat — a good ACC team.
“They dominated us from start to finish, I don’t think it was ever a game,” Williams said on the ACC teleconference Monday. “I don’t think that we were ever in the mix for it to be a game. They played harder than us, they played tougher, they played smarter than us.
“I don’t know that we can play a lot worse than we did that night relative to our effort and our energy and our attitude toward how things played out. Our guys were aware of how it happened, so, yeah, I would say they remember it as well.”
Williams hopes the Hokies (16-13, 8-8) can show how far they’ve come in a little bit more than a month when they face the Panthers (20-8, 9-7) tonight at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. It is the first of two rematches Pitt will play on the road this week as league play winds down. The Panthers will play Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Coach Jamie Dixon said rematch games can be tricky, but there is no chance the Panthers will take either lightly, even though they own wins against both at Petersen Events Center.
“We feel like we are playing well,” Dixon said. “We put so much into what teams are doing the last couple of games, but it wasn’t like we thought we would be playing against someone who can’t play this week or anyone in this league.”
Pitt got a huge win Sunday against then-No. 15 Duke, one the Panthers needed after being winless against ranked opponents this year. While Dixon stressed that it wasn’t any more or less important than beating Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, it at least silenced some critics.
“It became an easy thing to hold against us,” Dixon said. “But it is the only thing, as we have done what you want to do everywhere else. The reality is we had played six teams that were really good and didn’t get it done.
“But this time we did. … Of course, depending on what story you want to write, you can make the cutoff where you want to determine good teams. Is it top 20, 25, 50? We have a lot of quality wins and that was one of them.”
Virginia Tech has won three games in a row, and Dixon said he is not surprised to see the Hokies so competitive in the second year of a massive rebuilding project under Williams. “I’ve seen Virginia Tech when Seth Greenberg was there,” he said. “I always think of it as being a quality program that has great history playing in a tough league. There is a history there of winning, and they are playing really well at the end right now, which is what you want to do.
“They have a lot of depth, especially on the perimeter, and [Williams] has them playing hard.”
Williams said he believes most people are overlooking the Panthers and that they could be a surprise in the ACC tournament. But the Hokies come into tonight just a game behind Pitt in the ACC standings, and a win would give them an opportunity to finish with a winning record in conference play.
That would complete an amazing turnaround under Williams, but he is concerned only with his team playing better than it did in the first meeting.
“We need to make wholesale improvements on both ends of the court. Like I said before, I don’t think we were ever in the game the last time, so I don’t think it is one thing we have to do better, it is everything.”
Matchup: Pitt (20-8, 9-7 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (16-13, 8-8), 7 p.m. today, Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.
Internet, radio: ESPN3; KDKA-FM (93.7).
Pitt: Coming off first win against a ranked opponent. … Ryan Luther, Cameron Johnson, Damon Wilson and Rafael Maia were named to the ACC all-academic team. … Beat Virginia Tech, 90-71, Jan. 31 at Petersen Events Center.
Virginia Tech: Has won three games in a row. … Has won past two home games. … Is 4-7 all time against Pitt and 1-3 against teams coached by Jamie Dixon. … Is third in Division I in free throws made per game (18.7). … Averages 73.8 points per game.
Hidden stat: The Hokies average 13.1 turnovers per game and only 11.9 assists.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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