Have you ever been to the Pete ( Peterson Convention Center ) to watch a Panthers Basketball game? Let me be the first to tell you watching the game on TV does not compare to being there. As I walked into the Pit shaped arena, the first thing that came to my mind was the coziness of the arena. The seating is almost as snug as being inside a honeycomb, and you can feel the energy from the crowd no matter how large or small. I couldn’ t help but notice the student section affectionately called ” The Oakland Zoo,” it was a sea of gold as the majority of the young ones filling that section wore their gold t-shirts with pride.
Immediately from the opening tip. The Pitt Panthers looked like a version of the NFL s Carolina Panthers using good defense to set up scoring opportunities. As the Hokies of Virginia Tech and the Panthers got going many of their first scoring attempts were unsuccessful, but within seconds Cameron Johnson, Jamel Artis, and Michael Young found their rhythm and range raining three-point shots down on their visitors from Virginia. The trio powered Pittsburgh out to a 12 to 3 lead in the first four and a half minutes of action. Then Panthers guard Chris Jones got involved knocking down a shot from beyond the arc forcing coach Buzz Williams to call a much needed time out as the Panthers lead reached double digits 10 points (18 to 8).
As the first half continued both teams fought back and forth protecting the ball as Panthers 6′ 8″ 210-pound Sophomore Guard Cam Johnson was letting the game come to him knocking down three-pointers and using his muscle on the defensive boards. His teammate 6′ 9″ Junior Michael Young found his groove as well, and during the early run, Pitt scored five more points as Virginia Tech could only muster three more points.
During the first half, the Panthers showed lots of toughness inside as 6′ 11″ 300-pound center Rozelle Nix and 6′ 8″ Senior Sheldon Jeter battled underneath giving the Hokies problems. As the half wore on the Hokies, cut into the Pittsburgh lead as Justin Robinson nailed a jumper reducing the Pitt lead to just seven. At this point, Virginia Tech Appeared to be settled and finding their rhythm, but height and strength of the Panthers underneath the hoop was proving to be a challenge.
The pace of the game seemed to favor the Panthers as they ran their offense this time with two men low just outside the key and three men outside of the three point line. Cam Johnson who had been making it rain all night to this point knocked down another Trey to restore the Panthers double-digit lead.Meanwhile, Virginia Tech Guards Justin Bibs and Ahmed Hill tried to keep up with the three-point marksmanship of Pittsburgh, but at this point, that was not happening.
The Hokies coming off a double overtime win over Virginia on Saturday appeared to be a little off on this night as their shots would not fall. This allowed Pittsburgh to go into the locker room up by eleven.
At the beginning of the second half, there was a noticeable change in the pace of the game as both teams once again appeared to search for their comfort zone. Virginia Tech started first as the combination of Justin Robinson, Ty Outlaw and Justin Bibbs converted on buckets cutting the deficit they were facing down to seven (45-39 ). Then Pittsburgh Sheldon Jeter was sent to the foul line where he converted one of two shots. At this Point, the Hokies backcourt of Bibbs and Robinson was clicking as Robinson drove to the hole for a Hokies layup. On the ensuing Panther possession, Jamel Artis knocked down a Panther’s three-pointer putting Pittsburgh up by 9 points.
As the game moved under the 10 minutes mark the Panthers maintained at least a six-point lead. Then it happened the proverbial turning point of the game! Virginia Tech’s Ahmad Hill stole the ball and raced to the other end of the court only to be fouled by Young. The bucket went in and the official called a flagrant and one foul putting Hill on the line for two shots (which he converted ), and the Hokies got the ball back. Bibbs nailed a trey on that possession, and the Hokies were up for the first time 53-52. That did not last long as Jeter came right back and nailed a go-ahead jumper.
Then Mr. Johnson (Cameron) went back at it again knocking down his 17th point on the night with another three-pointer extending the Panthers lead to four. But Techs Robinson and Zach LeDay would not give in as they both converted field goals to tie the game at 57. Once again the Hokies paid a visit to the hole courtesy of Robinson who dropped in 2 points and put the Hokies up 59-57. Then Pittsburg’s Michael Young showed power and grace with a spin move on the baseline for a bucket and after Jeter’s 2 points, and the Panthers once again were up by two.
With two minutes left in the game, the Panthers went inside to Jeter again who was fouled. As he stepped to the line, he effortlessly sank both shots putting Pitt up 63-59. Tech roared back down the court going inside to LeDay who was fouled by Jeter and now faced two shots with a full honeycomb buzzing. LeDay knocked down both and cut the Panthers lead to two (63-61). LeDay then stole, and errant pass and Ahmed Hill confidently sank a shot from beyond the arc putting Tech up 64-63 with 54 seconds left in Regulation.
After the Panthers, Timeout Pitt inbound the ball at halfcourt and looked to set up their offense. After an errant pass went out of bounds off a Virginia Tech defender Panthers head coach Kevin Stallings called a timeout to calm his troops. Coming out of the break with 37 seconds left the clock Pitts-Young took a three-point shot from the top of the key and missed. Rebound Tech and Justin Robinson was fouled as he went to the line to shot a one and one. He ignored the raucous crowds and sank them both putting Tech up by three . But the excitement did not stop there the Panthers had three looks at the bucket from behind the three-point line as time wound down missing all three attempts and losing the game 66-63.
The win improves Virginia Techs record to 18 wins against seven losses on the season, leadWhile the Panthers fall to 14-12. Ahmed Heads the Tech Scoring with 17 points as he lead four Hokies scoring in double figures. Cameron Johnson and Michael Young had Double Doubles for the Panthers in Losing efforts. Johnson finished with 17 points and 11 boards , while Young finished the night with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Panthers next game is Saturday at home against Florida State.
Trevin A Jones