By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 7, 2008
PITTSBURGH – Ronald Ramon’s 3-point shot with 0.1 seconds left lifted No. 25 Pitt to a 55-54 victory over West Virginia Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center. Following a Pittsburgh timeout with 8.1 seconds on the clock, Ramon was able to get wide open on the wing after West Virginia had successfully covered the top of the key.
||West Virginia's Wellington Smith (35) reacts as Pittsburgh celebrates Ronald Ramon's buzzer beating three-point shot for a 55-54 win at the end of the basketball game in Pittsburgh,Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008. .
“We’re switching everything,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We switch, we have them covered and we leave their best player for no apparent reason. We just leave him wide open after we switched on him.
“It was a ball screen, we switched the ball screen, we’ve got them covered; we’ve got a 5-10 guy covered with our best athlete. We stop them, (Ramon) gives the ball back to the screener who can’t beat us and we leave the only guy who can beat us,” Huggins said.
The Panthers, playing without two starting guards Levance Fields and Mike Cook, got 10 points each from Keith Benjamin and Sam Young.
“We find ways to lose games,” said Huggins. “The only way we lose is the 3 and they’re going to ball screen.”
This was a difficult loss to take for a West Virginia team that is struggling to remain in contention for an NCAA tournament berth. The Mountaineers couldn’t make shots when Pitt was guarding them (19 of 53 for 35.8 percent) and they couldn’t make shots when the Panthers weren’t guarding them (7 of 17 from the free throw line for 41.2 percent).
“Seven for 17 from the foul line? It’s not like we don’t work on them,” Huggins said. “If we fouled Ramon you don’t think he goes down and makes both? I would think that he would.”
Da’Sean Butler and Joe Alexander combined to shoot just 3 of 20 from the floor and the Mountaineers’ top two scorers Alexander and Alex Ruoff managed only 10 points – 19 below their combined season averages. Despite that West Virginia ran off six straight points to take a 51-50 lead on a Darris Nichols bank-shot 3 from the top of the key with 2:13 left. Those six points came after two Alexander free throws were taken away when officials went to the monitor to determine that Cam Thoroughman and not Alexander was fouled on a rebound attempt. Thoroughman missed the front end of his one-and-one attempt.
Nichols expanded West Virginia’s lead to three, 53-50, on a jumper in the lane with 1:22 remaining. Pitt responded with a pretty in-bound play that resulted in a Benjamin dunk when DeJuan Blair tipped Benjamin’s in-bound pass right back to Benjamin underneath the basket. Benjamin's score came with 59 seconds left on the clock.
Leading by one, the Mountaineers appeared to be in great shape when Blair blew a reverse lay up and Wellington Smith grabbed the rebound, throwing the ball back to 85-percent free throw shooter Alex Ruoff, who was fouled with 9.5 seconds left.
Two free throws would have given West Virginia a three-point lead and at worse a tie on a 3-point basket but Ruoff missed the first of two - one of 10 missed free throws for the Mountaineers on the night.
“Other than the foul trouble I thought Wellington played pretty well,” Huggins said. “I thought it was a little bit of a coming out deal for him tonight.”
The loss was very similar to the Georgetown loss on Jan. 26 in that West Virginia could not cash in on free throw attempts and lost the game on the final play of the game.
There were 13 lead changes in tonight’s game and Pitt had a slim, 39-35 advantage on the glass.
“I asked our players after the game if they honest to God believed at the end of the game anyone would just leave Darris Nichols wide open for a 3?” Huggins said. “We had to say ten times, we do not leave Ramon and we do not leave Sam Young. We don’t leave those guys under any conditions.”
Nichols finished with a game-high 16 points and Joe Mazzulla came off the bench to contribute 15 on 6 of 7 shooting. Take Mazzulla’s shooting performance away and the rest of the team was 13 of 46 for 28.2 percent.
“Joe and Cam (Thoroughman) played liked crazy because those are two guys you want in a hole with you,” Huggins said. “Those guys will fight for you.”
Pitt wasn’t exactly lighting it up from the floor, either, making 40 percent (20 of 50) including 5 of 15 from 3-point range. The Panthers were 10 of 16 from the line and out-scored West Virginia, 20-14 in the paint.
Pittsburgh improves to 18-5, 6-4, and has won four straight against West Virginia and six of the last nine games in the series. Pitt has owned West Virginia since 2002, going 10-3 during that span.
West Virginia falls to 16-7, 5-5, and has seven days before returning to the Coliseum to face a 10-14 Rutgers team Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
“We have a hard time scoring and to have ourselves in a position to beat Georgetown and to have this game won and to give games away … the difference between winning and losing this game is the difference between being fifth in the league and being 11th in the league.”
West Virginia has eight regular season games remaining against the Scarlet Knights, Seton Hall, Providence and Pitt at home, and road games against Villanova, DePaul, Connecticut and St. John’s.
Pitt is expected to have Fields back in time for the West Virginia game at the WVU Coliseum on March 3.