The Jackets fell to 10-7 (1-3 ACC) after suffering an 81-74 loss to No. 22 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. Senior guard Trae Golden led the Jackets with 22 points on 6-16 shooting and sophomore guard Marcus Georges-Hunt added 13 points. Pitt was led by senior forward Talib Zanna who scored 22 points on 8-10 shooting to go along with a team high nine rebounds. Forward Lamar Patterson had 12 points for the Panthers, all coming in the second half.
“Pittsburgh has built a great program. They play with great toughness. They share the ball well. They know exactly who they are and they rarely take a bad shot. The guys know who’s getting the shots, so they’re always in good position to rebound,” said Coach Brian Gregory.
Pitt opened up the scoring on a layup by Zanna and would take a 9-4 lead at the 15:30 mark on a three pointer by guard James Robinson. Tech took their first lead with 10:20 remaining after a Kammeon Holsey dunk that put the Jackets up 14-13. The lead lasted just 22 seconds—Derrick Randall responded with a dunk of his own to put the Panthers back up by one. After starting the game 0-4, down by two, sophomore guard Chris Bolden connected on a three point attempt to put the Jackets up 19-18 with 7:46 left in the first half. Bolden finished just 1-8 on the game. Georges-Hunt hit a three at the 7:09 mark to put the Jackets up 22-20, but then the Tech’s offense went cold, not scoring for the next 3:49. Tech ended the half on a 6-2 run to take a 35-32 halftime lead.
Sophomore guard Solomon Poole missed his second straight game due to migraines, and senior guard Jason Morris was also out after suffering minor injuries in a car wreck. Having already lost Travis Jorgenson and Robert Carter Jr. to season ending injuries, Tech was limited in this game. With freshman forward Quinton Stephens picking up three fouls in just five minutes of play in the first half, Tech was forced to play players like junior guard Stacey Poole Jr. at the forward position, a position he is not accustomed to playing.
“Definitely [not used to playing it],” Gregory said. “Still I thought we got good minutes from Corey [Heyward]. He’s coming on pretty good for us. And we had some guys that didn’t get to play as many minutes because they weren’t as focused as they needed to be defensively and they got in foul trouble. Q [Quinton Stephens] only played 10 minutes and he had five fouls. We need him out there and he stretches the court. It takes away a lot of our stuff when he’s not able to play at that spot for us.”
Pitt started the second half on a 9-2 run, five of the points coming from Zanna. Stephens would break the run on a three pointer from the left corner to cut the Panther’s lead to 41-40 with 15:06 remaining. Stephens picked up his fourth foul with 13:09 remaining. After Stephen’s three, Pitt went on a 18-5 run over the next eight minutes to increase their lead to 59-45. Back-to-back layups by Holsey pulled the Jackets within ten with 7:11 remaining. Pitt maintained a steady lead for the next few minutes as both teams traded baskets. Tech would cut the lead to just five on a Golden three with 49 seconds left in the game, but two free throws by Zanna put the game out of reach for the Jackets.
The story of the night for the Jackets was rebounding. Tech was out-rebounded 38-18 for the game, and 19-6 in the second half. Pitt finished the game with 22 second chance points. Losing Carter Jr. was definitely part of the reason Tech struggled on the glass. According to Georges-Hunt it is difficult to replace his nine rebounds per game. Gregory did think this was a valid excuse for getting out-rebounded by such a wide margin.
“It doesn’t matter if you have five guards out there, you gotta hit people, you gotta get to the ball and you gotta pursue it. You gotta finish the defensive possession with a rebound and we didn’t do that. So you can make excuses with the injuries or whatever, but you gotta fight on the glass and we didn’t have that so I’m disappointed in that,” Gregory said.