BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Coming off two losses in which it did not play particularly well and staring at the possibility of starting league play with an 0-3 mark, Virginia Tech desperately needed someone to deliver a marquee performance.
The Hokies certainly found their man in Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The 6-foot-10 post player dominated on the interior, scoring a career-high 31 points to lift Virginia Tech to an 81-67 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Blackshear made 12 of 16 from the floor in helping the Hokies (12-4, 1-2 ACC) snap a two-game losing streak.
“He was killing,” Tech guard Justin Robinson said. “I knew he was feeling it. I just told him to keep shooting. There is no reason why he shouldn’t shoot. That’s why we kept feeding him the ball.”
“I’ve got a bunch of shooters around me, and they were finding me when I was open,” Blackshear said. “It made everything easier.”
Blackshear made 5 of 7 from the free-throw line, and he even extended his game, draining a couple of 3-pointers. More important than racking up personal accolades, Blackshear helped the Hokies avoid an 0-3 start to league play for the first time since the 2014-15 season – head coach Buzz Williams’ first season.
“I think it’s going to be the most volatile league year that it’s been since I’ve been here,” Williams said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I think we’ve created an expectation level at a very rapid rate, which I think is good, but it’s also not necessarily stable. It’s (the league) going to be hard.”
Pittsburgh (8-8, 0-3 ACC), which has lost three straight, trailed by 11 in the second half, but went on a 17-6 run, tying the game at 51 on two free throws by Jared Wilson-Frame with 12:37 remaining. The Hokies, though, scored the next six points, with Blackshear scoring four of them.
The Panthers again sliced into the Virginia Tech lead, cutting it to 69-64 on a layup by Terrell Brown with 2:22 remaining.
But Blackshear, as he did all game, answered, burying a 3-pointer with 2:02 to go to thwart Pittsburgh’s momentum.
“With seven minutes to play, I thought we were in good shape,” Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings said. “We missed a couple of open ones. They converted. We took a couple of bad ones, and now all of the sudden, we’re looking at nine- or 10(-point deficit) instead of three or four. So whether it’s a squandered opportunity . they’re a good team, and we’re a team that’s trying to learn and trying to become a good team.”
Nickeil Alexander-Walker aided the Virginia Tech cause by converting three 3-point plays in the final six minutes and finished with 16 points, and Ahmed Hill had 15. Robinson scored 11 points and dished out 10 assists.
Wilson-Frame led the Panthers, tying his career high with 20 points. He and Parker Stewart each made four of Pittsburgh’s 12 3-pointers, but the Panthers’ 17 turnovers led to 22 Virginia Tech points.
Pittsburgh: For the second straight game, Stallings started five freshmen, and Pittsburgh does have some intriguing pieces, especially Stewart (12 points) and Marcus Carr (14 points). But the Panthers sorely miss Ryan Luther, who was averaging a double-double before a foot injury sidelined him. He now has missed the past six games.
Virginia Tech: Thanks to Blackshear’s dominance inside, Virginia Tech shot better than 50 percent for the first time in four games. The Hokies, ranked second nationally in field-goal percentage coming into this game, shot 52.6 percent (30 of 57) despite making just 4 of 23 from beyond the 3-point arc.
DEFENSE DOWN THE STRETCH
Virginia Tech isn’t necessarily known for its defense – the Hokies ranked 12th in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense coming into the game – but it came up with some big stops down the stretch, particularly against Wilson-Frame. After Wilson-Frame tied the game at 51, he failed to score again, missing his final seven shot attempts.
J-ROB WITH FIRST DOUBLE-DOUBLE
Robinson has flirted with a double-double on several occasions throughout his career, but the junior finally recorded one, finishing with the 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor. His 10 assists were one short of a career high and two short of tying the school record of 12 set by Bimbo Coles in a 1987 game against Missouri.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers play Duke on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies return to action Wednesday when they play a road game at Wake Forest.
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