Finally. After what seemed like a two-month long losing streak, fortune and form return to the Hokies. Mike Young’s side controlled nearly the entirety of the game against Pittsburgh and lifted Tech to its 15th win of the season.
Now 6-8 in the ACC and in 9th place, the Hokies have a brutal schedule to close out the season - Miami, Duke, UVA, Louisville, Clemson (who just beat Louisville), and Notre Dame. All five of those teams are above VT in the ACC standings. But before we worry about those games, a look back at Saturday’s exciting win.
1 - P.J. Horne Returns
Welcome back P.J. After nine straight games of failing to hit double digits, the upperclassmen delivered on his leadership role against Pittsburgh. Horne led the Hokies with 18 points, a season high for him and a much need boost of confidence for the player.
In five of the last nine games P.J. had hit only one shot or gone completely cold from the field. But on Saturday Horne landed four 3-pointers, shooting 66% from deep - including those two late clutch threes that sealed the victory. I’m been critical of the junior as of late, but Mike Young’s commitment to keeping in the starting lineup paid off this weekend. His scoring will only open up more space for Landers Nolley in the weeks to come.
Back to our ways— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) February 16, 2020
Final ( 67, 57) pic.twitter.com/rlgCZyYUIZ
2 - The Two Cs
When any team loses five straight, including most recently falling in overtime at home, they need a spark to bring back the energy. On Saturday Jalen Cone and Hunter Cattoor provided that spark - confidence, hustle and big time shots early on to set the pace for the rest of the team.
Cone, who clearly is a talented shooter, even at this early stage in his career, had been relatively cold and underused the past five games. Averaging 4.4 points a game and under 20 minutes of action, Cone’s dip lines up perfectly with Tech’s losses. Saturday, Coach Young only gave him 19 minutes, but the freshmen delivered with 12 points hitting four of five from deep.
Likewise, Cattoor has seen his minutes declining, including on Saturday, but stepped up when given the chance. He hit two early three points, possibly fouled on a third attempt soon after, to boost the Hokies’ lead and lift the crowd. Both Cone and Cattoor should be a joy to watch develop in the coming years in Blacksburg.
P.J. with his best game yet #StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/qmNygL0EPk— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) February 16, 2020
3 - Depth wins the day
All season Mike Young has played to Tech’s strength - the three point shot and depth. With all the turnover in the off-season, the Hokies needed everyone to contribute on this rebuilt roster. For the majority of the season it’s come to fruition - until the recent dry spell. Saturday saw VT outscore Pittsburgh 25 to 10 in bench points. Nine Hokies scored, while the Panthers only had six players hit a basket.
John Ojiako deserves special recognition. The 6’10” freshman has slowly been working his way into his first season, but really felt a part of the team on Saturday. He hit two of his three shots and pulled in nine rebounds - second best after Landers Nolley’s 12. He’s had better scoring games (15 against UMES) and racked up 8+ rebounds twice earlier in the season, but this was against ACC opposition. This was Ojiako’s most minutes since ACC play started (14), most rebounds during that stretch (9) and second most points against a conference opponent (4). I think everyone is excited to see the player he can develop into, especially for this height-challenged team.
The Hokies return to action on Wednesday at 9 pm ET as Miami comes to Cassell Coliseum.