Pitt still trusts process as losing streak hits 9 after setback to Virginia Tech
Jeff Capel respects Buzz Williams and admires what he has done as coach of Virginia Tech.
Capel tries to be patient while working toward the day when his Pitt team — like the Hokies — can win 20 games four seasons in a row.
But he doesn’t need Williams, who inherited a 9-22 team in 2014 and proceeded to win 94 games in the next five seasons, to show him recovery is possible.
Despite Pitt stretching its losing streak to nine games and 36 days Saturday in a 70-64 loss to the Hokies before a crowd of 10,289 at Petersen Events Center, Capel said his program is on the right track. It’s one he has planned for his team.
“I don’t need (Williams’ track record) to have hope,” Capel said. “I have hope. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in the process in which we’re doing it.”
Capel admitted Pitt got a little closer against No. 22 Virginia Tech (20-5, 9-4), even though the Panthers (12-14, 2-11) trailed all but 3 minutes, 44 seconds of the game.
Yet, when Pitt threatened to take the lead in the second half, the ensuing moments underscored the problems Capel is trying to fix.
With 7:28 left, Xavier Johnson hit a 3-pointer to inch Pitt within two points (48-46) of the Hokies.
It didn’t take long — less than two minutes, actually — for Virginia Tech to hit three 3-pointers and take an 11-point advantage into the game’s final minutes.
Pitt continued to play hard, but that short sequence essentially decided the outcome.
First, Virginia Tech 6-foot-10 forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. hit from long range, his third 3-pointer of the game on his way to 29 points.
Then, Ty Outlaw hit another off an in-bounds play that Capel had prepared his team for as late as Saturday morning. Jonathan Kabongo hit Pitt with the third dagger.
“He’s preaching fighting and playing smart,” Pitt junior Kene Chukwuka said of Capel’s message to the team.
“We did the fighting part. We played smart for parts of the game, but there were a couple out-of-bounds plays we gave them 3s that we just went through this morning.”
Capel said the sequence showed what a veteran team can do with the game on the line.
“It’s an example of a veteran team, a team that has some experience, a team, quite frankly, that’s used to winning,” he said. “I was hoping it didn’t happen, but you’re not surprised when guys step up and make plays.”
Capel said he doesn’t have any players on the roster who have won at Pitt. The effects of an 0-19 ACC season last year linger to this day.
“The only guy we had did it at another place (Sidy N’Dir at New Mexico State last year), and he’s a guy who’s been injured this year,” Capel said. “Maybe we’d be a little further ahead if he was able to not have missed time. Maybe.”
N’Dir is averaging 12 points over the past four games, and he assembled a nice stat line against the Hokies with 12 points, a team-leading six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Johnson remained consistent, scoring 18 points to move past DeJuan Blair into second place on Pitt’s all-time freshman scoring list. With 434 points, Johnson needs one to tie Charles Smith for the record.
Johnson and Trey McGowens, who added 10 points, offer hope for the future, but Capel knows there are many hard days ahead.
“I understood what I signed up for, and I knew it was going to be a process,” he said.
“It’s frustrating now that you’re losing, but I’ve tried to have a really good perspective of where we are as a program when I took over. I haven’t deviated from that, even when we had success. I understand how hard this is going to be and it’s not a quick fix.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .