PITTSBURGH (AP) - With his team coming off its third double-digit loss in two weeks, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon buried his whistle in practice and dared his players to stop getting pushed around.
Consider Sheldon Jeter all ears.
Pressed into his first start of the season with Rafael Maia limited by a groin injury, Jeter scored a career-high 23 points as the Panthers pulled away from Virginia Tech in a 90-71 win on Sunday night.
Jeter scored 13 of Pitt’s first 17 points and poured it on late as the Panthers (17-4, 6-3) sent the Hokies to their fourth straight loss.
“A couple of our past performances the last couple weeks, we’ve been out-physicaled,” Jeter said. “A lot of people were called out. I was one of them.”
Whether the Panthers have legitimately toughened up probably won’t be answered until they begin a brutal stretch that includes games against Virginia, Miami and North Carolina. The way they executed offensively against Virginia Tech (12-10, 4-5), toughness wasn’t exactly required.
Michael Young finished with 13 points and seven bounds and Jamel Artis had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. Pitt picked up 30 assists on 36 field goals and converted 20 Hokie turnovers into 33 points the other way. The Panthers outscored Virginia Tech 40-22 in the paint and shot 53 percent from the field, taking firm control late in the first half and never letting the Hokies make it interesting the rest of the way.
“They shredded us in every way,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said.
Seth Allen scored a career high 28 for the Hokies, including 5 of 5 3-pointers. Jalen Hudson added 13 and Justin Bibbs and Zach LeDay had 12 each but Virginia Tech couldn’t keep pace with the Panthers, who returned to the uptempo and efficient style that served them so well earlier in the season.
“It was the worst we’ve been,” Williams said. “Twenty turnovers, that was 28 percent of our possessions, not very good. They were incredible offensively.”
Both teams came in searching for momentum with their hot starts in league play fading as the calendar ticked toward February. Pitt was sluggish early in a 73-60 loss at Clemson last week, the third blowout the Panthers suffered in a span of 13 days.
The Hokies, meanwhile, have been more competitive but had nothing to show for it other than three straight losses to ACC blue bloods Notre Dame, Louisville and North Carolina by a combined 15 points.
Maia’s tweaked groin provided an opportunity for Jeter, typically the first man off the bench. The junior wasted little time going to work, hitting his first five shots while scoring in a variety of ways, from a 3-pointer to a baseline jumper to a dunk. The early surge kept Pitt in the lead even with leading scorer Young largely ineffective. Young was held scoreless in 10 minutes in the first half - failing to even take a shot or grab a rebound - before leaving for a spell after sustaining a cut that sent blood pooling on the Petersen Events Center floor.
Allen practically kept the Hokies in it by himself, making all three of his 3-pointers in the first half and getting to the line with regularity thanks to his ability to get in the lane and draw contact. The junior, however, received little help. That wasn’t a problem for Jeter, whose performance seemed to inspire fellow reserves Cameron Johnson and Ryan Luther.
Johnson drilled a pair of 3s and Luther - whose playing time has increased of late as a big body off the bench - hit a 3-pointer of his own as the Panthers took a 41-32 lead into the break and took off from there.
Part of Dixon’s plan to get his players engaged is turning every possession in practice into a free-for-all. The slightly undersized Panthers have been dominated on the boards at times this season, particularly against bigger teams. They ended up with a slight 34-32 advantage against Virginia Tech, including 13 offensive rebounds in the second half.
Not that Dixon is impressed.
“We’ve got to do some things better defensively,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to change of some ways of some guys. Our numbers in conference are not good enough. It’s amazing we’re 6-3.”
Virginia Tech: The Hokies made 11 of 21 3-pointers. … Forward Satchel Pierce was called for a flagrant foul in the first half after getting tangled up with Pitt center Alonzo Nelson-Ododa.
Pitt: Luther and Johnson both finished with nine points. … Point guard James Robinson had eight points to go with 11 assists.
Virginia Tech: at Syracuse on Tuesday.
Pitt: hosts Virginia on Saturday.
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