Strong Second Half Lifts Pitt
PITTSBURGH – Fourth-ranked Pitt overcame a one-point halftime deficit to come away with a 71-58 victory over West Virginia Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (25-3, 13-2) swept the regular season series against West Virginia for the third time since 2007, and have now won seven out of eight against the Mountaineers in the nine seasons the Petersen Events Center has been opened.
Tonight’s game was nearly a carbon copy of the contest in Morgantown three weeks ago, the Panthers using another strong second half performance to overcome a Mountaineer halftime lead.
Pitt, trailing 31-30 at halftime, scored the first seven points of the second half with West Virginia committing four personal fouls in a two-minute span.
“We kind of got our heads down with the four consecutive fouls,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
A pair of Ashton Gibbs baskets put the Panthers up eight, 41-33, and the lead swelled to 11 with 11:36 remaining when Brad Wanamaker followed up Lamar Patterson’s missed 3.
Then Gary McGhee's dunk put Pitt up 13, 57-44, with 7:25 to go and the margin eventually grew to 17 following a pair of baskets by Nasir Robinson, who once again led Pitt with 15 points. It was Robinson’s 15 that helped Pitt knock off West Virginia, 71-66, in Morgantown back on Feb. 7.
“You work 20 minutes of breakdown drills on the ball screen and roll and the other guy is going to step up and we’re going to switch it out. And then we stand there and watch a guy dunk the ball in the half court. I can’t ever remember somebody dunking the ball on us in our half-court defense – just from standing underneath the basket and receiving a pass,” said Huggins.
Two telling stats: Pitt shot 60.7% in the second half in its win in Morgantown and the Panthers shot 65.2% in the second half of tonight’s game. Pitt also had its way against West Virginia in the lane, outscoring the smaller Mountaineers 34-16. In the two games against West Virginia this year, Pitt outscored the Mountaineers, 76-40, in the paint.
“I don’t know what to say? We throw it to two feet and we can’t score,” said Huggins. “We’ve got to do a better job of scoring the ball.”
Gilbert Brown, Wanamaker and Patterson each added 11 points for the Panthers.
Casey Mitchell was the only West Virginia player to reach double figures with a game-high 22 points. It’s Mitchell’s second 20-point effort in the last three games, but both were losses to Syracuse and Pitt.
West Virginia (17-10, 8-7) converted just 17 of its 51 field goal attempts for 33.3%, including hitting just 26.1% in the second half.
“They make more plays than we do – they just don’t quit on plays,” said Huggins. “Wanamaker gets beat big time and we’ve got a layup and he blocks it. We throw it around the rim and we can’t score. How many times did we have our hands on the ball and they come out with it?”
The Mountaineers were much better on the glass tonight, only getting outrebounded by three tonight after Pitt claimed a 12-board advantage in Morgantown.
A capacity crowd of 12,876 was on hand for tonight’s game.
The loss puts West Virginia in a three-way tie with Marquette and Connecticut for ninth place in the Big East standings. Marquette won at UConn earlier tonight and the Golden Eagles own the tiebreaker over West Virginia with a victory against the Mountaineers back on Jan. 1.
West Virginia has three league games remaining - one on the road this Sunday at Rutgers and then two at home against Connecticut on Wednesday, March 2, and Louisville on Saturday, March 5.
“Hopefully we figure it out and come out and play even harder and better on Sunday because that’s going to be a hard game,” said Huggins. “(Rutgers coach) Mike Rice has done a great job with those guys. They play hard.”
- West Virginia is one of three Big East teams with winning records in conference play during the last five seasons (the other two are Pitt and Marquette). The Mountaineers will need to win two of their three remaining league games against Rutgers, Connecticut and Louisville to keep that streak intact.
- The Big East announced yesterday that next Saturday’s regular season finale against Louisville will be televised on ESPN. The Louisville game is a sellout but there are still tickets remaining for next Wednesday’s game against Connecticut.
- The final nine Big East games represent the toughest season-ending stretch in school history with seven of those games coming against ranked teams. West Virginia is 2-4 in those games with three remaining.
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