MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tray Woodall scored 24 points and Ashton Gibbs added 15 to lead Pitt to a 72-66 victory over West Virginia Monday night at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown.
It was Gibbs and Woodall who flipped West Virginia’s 17-9 first half lead, Woodall scoring seven of Pitt’s final 12 points of the half, including a 3 at the buzzer to give the Panthers a 33-29 lead at the break.
The Mountaineers (15-8, 5-5) helped the Panthers by failing to score a field goal during a seven-minute stretch midway through the first half before Kevin Jones ended the drought with a follow-up basket to tie the game at 23.
Early in the second half, the Panthers built their lead to 10 during a bizarre stretch that saw coach Bob Huggins get called for a technical foul while shouting instructions to his own player. At the time, the Panthers were leading 39-31 after Dante Taylor slipped free for an easy basket and was fouled on the play by Truck Bryant.
“I can’t explain that,” said Huggins. “I am yelling at Truck because he didn’t make a rotation. I don’t know how that happens?”
Gibbs made one of the two technicals before Taylor stepped back to the line to complete the three-point play, giving the Panthers a double-digit lead. Pitt also led 43-33 and 45-35 before the Mountaineers began chipping away. A Deniz Kilicli layup with 13:03 remaining cut Pitt’s lead to five, 46-41, and a Jones jumper with 10:45 left got it down to three, 48-45.
After Pitt increased its lead back to seven, 52-45, on two Lamar Patterson free throws, West Virginia eventually whittled it down to two, 54-52, on a Jabarie Hinds layup.
A Kilicli jumper and a Jones free throw cut Pitt’s lead to four, 63-59, before Taylor made a great hustle play when he was able to beat two West Virginia players for a 50-50 ball underneath Pitt’s basket to score a layup for his eighth point of the game. That put the Panthers back up by six, 65-59, with two minutes left.
“It’s a four-point game, KJ makes a great defensive play and we don’t even make a move to go get the ball,” said Huggins. “The ball is going out of bounds, they throw it back in, we’ve got two guys there, they’ve got one guy in the middle and he gets it and lays it in.”
Woodall then responded with the biggest basket of the game when he beat the Mountaineers off the bounce and was able to bank one in for his 24th point to keep it a six-point game with 55 seconds left. Free throws by Robinson, Patterson and Gibbs iced it for Pitt.
“We get it going and do the right thing and then I guess we think it’s easy. We’re just not tough enough,” said Huggins.
Pitt had an 8-0 advantage in fast break points and a 36-26 edge in points in the paint.
“You can’t throw them the ball for layups,” said Huggins. “They got back in the game because we gave them layups in transition.”
Jones led West Virginia with 21 points and 13 rebounds – his 15th double-double of the season and his eight consecutive 20-point game – the most by a West Virginia player since All-American guard Wil Robinson had nine straight 20-point games in 1972.
“I feel terrible for KJ because he is playing his heart out,” said Huggins.
Bryant added 14, Kilicli 12 and Hinds 10 for the Mountaineers.
Pitt (14-9, 3-7) made 21 of 26 from the free throw line tonight and has now won seven of its last 10 against the Mountaineers. Panther coach Jamie Dixon is 12-6 against West Virginia, including five wins at the Coliseum.
“I’m extremely frustrated with where we are right now,” said Huggins.
The announced attendance for tonight’s game was 13,032.
A difficult five-day stretch for the Mountaineers became even tougher after Huggins announced on his postgame radio show that freshman forward Kevin Noreen broke his ankle during the loss and is now likely out for the remainder of the season. With freshman Pat Forsythe also on the shelf, that means junior Dominique Rutledge is the only remaining big man left on the bench for WVU.
West Virginia is off until Sunday when it travels to Providence to face the Friars, who play Rutgers on Wednesday night. After that, the Mountaineers’ next two games are at home against Notre Dame and 25th-ranked Louisville before facing Pitt again in Pittsburgh on Feb. 16.
“Nothing in this league is easy and now we’ve got to go to Providence – which is going to be hard,” said Huggins, who plans on giving his team the next two days off before returning to practice on Thursday.