On the back of an impressive midweek performance against Georgia Tech, Kerry Blackshear Jr. delivered once more with another stat-stuffer game against the Panthers as the Hokies topped Pittsburgh 70-64.
Early on, the game looked to be in the Hokies’ control as they commanded a 14-6 lead. However, the game got shaky once Nickeil Alexander-Walker committed his second and third fouls in the first half, forcing him to the bench while the Hokies’ lackluster, inconsistent offense reappeared. Pittsburgh hit three triples to gain a 24-22 advantage just before the final media timeout of the half. Tech then responded with a 9-2 run to close the half, mostly consisting of Blackshear free throws. Bede had a coast-to-coast athletic finish to end the run and put the Hokies up 31-26 at the half.
Had Blackshear just played the first half, his stats were good enough for an entire yeoman’s day of work. He played nearly the entire first period, ending with 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Tech’s best big man controlled the tempo and the glass, allowing the Hokies to stay efficient from the field and was a calming factor amidst the chaos of the final ten minutes of the first half.
While Blackshear was phenomenal, the Hokies only got scoring contributions from four players, and two of those players had only one made field goal each. With a shortened and delicate rotation, it is crucial that everyone can contribute scoring to avoid putting too heavy of a load on the shoulders of Alexander-Walker and Blackshear. The second half presented many of the same issues, namely foul trouble, but the Hokies dealt with them better due to getting those contributions from everyone.
Virginia Tech’s efficiency from the floor increased significantly over the final twenty minutes, shooting 57.1 percent from the field and an impressive 60 percent from three on ten attempts. Two of those makes came from freshman Jonathan Kabongo, who has recently proven his worth as the eighth man in the rotation. With Robinson sidelined indefinitely, the Hokies need his hot shooting to continue.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh could not find their shooting stroke from three that they had in the first half, finishing the period just 2-of-12 from behind the arc. That helped the Hokies build a lead as large as eleven. The Panthers were given a lifeline as Alexander-Walker seemingly picked up his fifth foul on a charge call with the Hokies up just six and two minutes left on the clock. However, the referees went to the monitor to check whether the defender’s feet were within the restricted area and they were, leading to a reversal of the call. One ensuing free throw make later, the Hokies were up three possessions and the game was essentially over.
Blackshear continued his first half dominance into the second, finishing the game with 29 points and nine rebounds on outstanding efficiency. He fell three points shy of setting his career high, which coincidentally was set against Pittsburgh last season.
Ahmed Hill had a fantastic day himself on both ends of the floor. He totaled 14 points and went 2-of-6 from three, but his defensive energy was apparent, leading to steals and pass deflections. He has taken a step forward defensively this season, and that was on display today.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker started off strong, but finished with just 9 points on 2-of-5 shooting. He picked up two fouls early, which disrupted his overall rhythm and he never seemed to get it back.
With the win, the Hokies move to 9-4 in conference play with a rough slate of games ahead (including No. 4 Virginia at home on Monday). However, Virginia Tech can finish no worse than .500 in ACC play and no worse than .500 on the road. Despite all the injuries and adversity, the Hokies are in a good spot.