Don’t accuse Pitt’s players of getting tired near the end of their 66-63 loss to Virginia Tech on Tuesday night. Even though the starting five played every minute of the second half, that’s no excuse, coach Kevin Stallings said.

“They didn’t play hard enough to get tired,” said Stallings in, perhaps, the most telling indictment of his team in a season full of them.

Pitt’s first-year coach repeatedly shook his head during his postgame news conference, his frustration stopping just short of anger.

He had just watched Pitt (14-12, 3-10 ACC) return to the ugly, but accustomed, state it settled into earlier this season during an eight-game losing streak.

Pitt led, 40-29, at intermission, but the second half might have been the team’s worst 20 minutes of the season.

Pitt committed eight turnovers and shot 33.3 percent — down from 48.5 before intermission. The Panthers scored only 11 points in the final 12:11.

“I can’t really explain how you go from one half to another like that,” Stallings said. “That’s happened on several occasions like that. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Stallings said he must do almost everything for his senior-dominant team, short of putting on sneakers and shorts and playing point guard.

“I have to call a play every possession or we don’t have any flow,” he said. “Our lack of on-court direction showed. It was a lack of a guy out there that can run the show and can get people organized.”

Sophomore Cam Johnson led Pitt with 17 points in 39 minutes, and earned praise from his coach.

“Cam gave us a great effort from start to finish,” Stallings said.

But Johnson’s only basket in the second half was one of his five 3-pointers.

“We moved the ball well in the first half, and we were able to get open looks,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play with urgency (after halftime). We didn’t push the tempo. We need to fight more.”

What hurt more than anything was Pitt had all the advantages, though its home-court edge was diluted by a disappointing crowd of 7,835.

Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-6) played its first game without leading rebounder Chris Clarke, who tore the ACL in his left knee Sunday in a double-overtime victory against Virginia.

“We had no time to prepare on either end of the floor (to play) without Chris,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said.

How did the Hokies win?

“It speaks to their parents and how their parents raised them,” Williams said. “Their toughness, whatever adjective you want to use in that regard.”

For as poorly as Pitt played in the second half, it still led, 52-41, with 12:28 left in the game.

Showing no signs of fatigue in the midst of a 46-hour turnaround, Virginia Tech fought back and finally took the lead on what amounted to a seven-point play that took only one second off the clock.

With Pitt leading, 52-46, and 9:07 left, senior Michael Young intentionally fouled Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill on a breakaway.

The basket and Hill’s two foul shots were good. When Virginia Tech retained possession on the foul, Justin Bibbs quickly hit a 3-pointer from the corner for the Hokies’ first lead, 53-52.

“Shouldn’t have fouled the guy,” Stallings said.

But Pitt looked like it would survive that scoring burst, and took a 63-59 lead with 1:53 left on a basket by Young and two foul shots by Sheldon Jeter.

Those were Pitt’s last points.

Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen hit a 3-pointer in the middle of two foul shots each by Zach LeDay and Justin Robinson, and the game ended with Johnson missing two 3-pointers and Jamel Artis one.

“It was more good looks than I was even hoping we would get,” Stallings said. “Three really good looks.”

The starters played 39, 38, 37, 35 and 33 minutes, but every time Stallings asked them if they were tired, no one admitted to it.

His ultimate explanation, “A lack of energy, a lack of urgency, a lack of what it takes to win a game against a good ACC team.”

Stallings said the answers may run deeper than that.

“I can’t say everything that I think, so I can’t answer that question as honestly as I would like,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.