BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — During Virginia Tech’s recent skid, its fans and players had been searching for answers to help the Hokies solve some of their recent end-of-game issues, particularly after two close losses to Boston College and one to Florida State.
Coach Mike Young already knew the answer.
“There’s no pixie dust. There’s no magic formula to finishing,” he said following the Hokies’ win over Pittsburgh on Saturday. “Do the things you’ve done from the start — defend, rebound, get a quality shot each time down, and that’ll get you out of a lot of situations. I thought they did that.”
His team defended, held its own on the boards, and got a great evening from forward P.J. Horne, who scored a career-high 18 points to lift Virginia Tech to a 67-57 victory over the Panthers.
Horne hit 6 of 9 from the floor, including a career-high four 3-pointers for the Hokies (15-10, 6-8 Atlantic Coast Conference), who snapped a five-game losing streak. Jalen Cone added 12 points and four 3-pointers for Virginia Tech, which hit 12 3-pointers — its most since hitting 14 in a 79-77 double-overtime victory over North Carolina, which happened to be its last win before Saturday.
Au’Diese Toney and Justin Champignie scored 12 points each to lead the Panthers (15-11, 6-9), who lost for the fifth time in their past seven games.
Horne, who came into the game averaging 7.1 points per game, made two 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the final 3:30 to help the Hokies hold off the Panthers. Virginia Tech led by as many as 19 in the second half before Pittsburgh cut the lead to 59-53 on a layup by Abdoul Karim Coulibaly with 3:21 remaining.
Horne, though, hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:06 to go to push the Tech lead to 62-53, and after another Coulibaly layup with 2:51 remaining, Horne connected again, hitting another 3-pointer from the exact same spot to give the Hokies a 65-55 lead. Pittsburgh got no closer.
“It’s just the flow of the game,” Horne said of his 3-pointers. “I was open. Coach tells me never to turn down a good shot, so I just took the shots.
“I didn’t come in thinking I would have this type of night. I was just thinking we needed to win. We needed to find a way to win.”
Xavier Johnson finished with 11 points for Pittsburgh, which shot just 35% (21 of 60) in losing its fifth straight road game.
“I thought we did some good things, but we have to be able to finish,” Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel said. “I would imagine we probably missed seven to eight layups, so we have to be able to finish those plays, and we have to be able to make free throws (10 of 18). If we can do that, then maybe the outcome would have been a little bit different or a little bit closer.
“We cannot dig ourselves a hole like we did again. We showed we can get up off the mat and fight back, but we have to figure out a way where we don’t have a hole that big.”
Pittsburgh: Securing an NCAA Tournament berth is probably a bit much to ask of this young squad, but an NIT bid is certainly an attainable goal. However, the Panthers need to find a cure for their first-half woes, particularly on the road. Pittsburgh entered the game shooting just 32.4% in the first half of its previous five road games (four losses) and continued the trend Saturday, shooting just 26.9% in the first half.
Virginia Tech: A week off certainly did wonders for the Hokies, who desperately needed a win after dropping five straight games. Like the Panthers, the Hokies probably aren’t going to make the NCAA field unless they came make some noise against a brutal upcoming schedule. Tech plays Miami on Wednesday, then takes on Duke (road), Virginia (home) and Louisville (road).
HORNE OF PLENTY
How rare was Horne’s performance for Virginia Tech? He hadn’t scored in double figures in the previous nine games and in just two ACC games this season. His four 3-pointers were a career high.
“I just thought he was really searching (for his shot) — more so tonight, I thought,” Young said. “We had some matchups in the previous game against Boston College, (but) he wasn’t moving as well. His shot preparation wasn’t what it had been. Had a great look (tonight).”
JOHNSON SITS TO START SECOND HALF
Capel did not start guard Xavier Johnson at the beginning of the second half after Johnson played poorly in the first half. He did not score, missing his lone shot attempt and both of his free-throw attempts in the first 20 minutes.
“He didn’t deserve to start the second half,” Capel said. “That’s not pushing a button. You deserve what you get when you play for me. It’s not a birthright that you’re going to start. It’s no big story. He just didn’t deserve to start … He played better in the second half, but we need everybody on this team to play how they’re capable all the time in order for us to have a chance to win.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers play at Florida State on Tuesday.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Miami on Wednesday.