Pitt shook off a sluggish first half to pull out a 71-66 win before a crowd of 14,175 at the West Virginia Coliseum.Pitt improves to 22-2 overall, 10-1 in the Big East. West Virginia drops to 15-8 overall, 6-5 in the Big East.
Nasir Robinson led the way with 15 points. Gary McGhee finished with 13 points, followed by Travon Woodall with 12 points and Brad Wanamaker with 11. Deniz Kilicli had a game-high 19 points for the Mountaineers in the losing effort.
"It was a good win for us against a very good team," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "I know they have a high RPI. They're experienced. They have five seniors, and again, they're a very good team."
Pitt outrebounded West Virginia 40-28—led by nine rebounds from Wanamaker. In addition to the edge in rebounding, Pitt had a lot of success in the paint, outscoring the Mountaineers in that area, 42-24. A lot of those points in the paint came from drives through the lane, a lot of which were finished off by Wanamaker, Brown and Robinson.
West Virginia jumped out to an early 6-0 lead in the first minute of the game, started off by a three-pointer from Kevin Jones. Pitt could only respond with a missed jumper and two turnovers on its first three possessions.
Pitt turned the ball over three times in the first five minutes of the game, as West Virginia was able to mount a 12-4 lead. Kilicli started giving McGhee problems on the inside. After taking McGhee inside for a layup off the glass, to put West Virginia up 10-4, Kilicli hit the first of two left-handed hook shots, which gave West Virginia the 12-4 lead.
After Pitt made its first substitutions of the game, the bench players provided in a big way, specifically Dante Taylor. In three consecutive trips, Taylor grabbed two defensive rebounds off West Virginia misses, and blocked another shot. Pitt was able to come back and make it a 12-10 game following a dunk by Wanamaker, who took the ball coast-to-coast following one of Taylor's rebounds. Taylor finished with six rebounds in 16 minutes of actions, and showed no signs of being bothered by a knee after being injured last week in practice, and missing Saturday's game against Cincinnati.
"Defensively, he got a couple stops at the end, he got a couple rebounds," Dixon said. "It was great. His knee seems a little bit better. I thought he was really active. For the most part, he defended Kilicli well."
Pitt tied the game three times in the first half, and held the lead just once. Pitt tied it up at 14-14 thanks to a steal by Wanamaker, who then took it all the way to the other end for a layup with 8:06 left in the first half. Later, McGhee dished off to a driving Woodall, who finished off with an easy layup inside, making it 18-18 with 5:09 left.
After the Mountaineers got some breathing room thanks to jumpers from Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzullla, Pitt was down by three, 23-20 at the two-minute mark of the half. Wanamaker hit a jumper off a feed from Woodall. He was fouled on the play. His free throw tied the game at 23-23 with 1:22 left in the half.
Though Pitt had possession at the end of the half, Wanamaker missed on his final shot attempt of the half. Lamar Patterson got the offensive board and missed, as did Robinson. The Panthers settled for a 25-23 deficit at the half; not too bad considering the Panthers tied their worst shooting performance in a half this season. Pitt matched a 29 percent effort they had at Rutgers just nine days ago, converting 9-of-31 shots.
After keeping it close early in the second half, Pitt was finally able to break through and grab and 8-0 run, to go up 39-33 with 12:33 left. With the game tied at 29-29 just a few minutes in, Gary McGhee took a hard foul from Cam Thoroughman. McGhee converted both of his free throws to put Pitt up 31-29, its first lead since a 16-14 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
After Casey Mitchell answered with a jumper, that tied the score again at 31-31 with 15:31 left in the game, but it was Pitt who went on a 8-2 run over the next three minutes. The problem for West Virginia's defense, is that even without Gibbs, the Panthers had several players willing to drive the lanes. Robinson took one in, Brown finished off a drive with a dunk, then Patterson took one in from the top of the key off. Pitt was up by six with 12:39 left.
"They out-manned us is what happened," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it. They just out-manned us."
Casey Mitchell answered with a pair of three-pointers, as West Virginia came back to take a 46-45 lead with 8:41 left. The Panthers answered with a mini 6-0 run. Woodall, who was held to just four points in the first half, came alive in the second half. After shooting just 1-of-6 in the first half, Woodall connected on 3-of-5 shots in the second half, including Pitt's lone three-pointer which made it a six-point game later in the second half.
"He's played so many minutes, and he's started games, so it's not like it's a new thing," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's played a lot minutes before, and he's ready for (being a starter). I thought he played a little better defense, and that's what we're working with him."
The 6-0 run started with his jumper just inside the baseline, which gave the lead back to Pitt at 47-46. On the next possession, after grabbing the rebound, Wanamaker took the ball all the way to the other end—something he had success with all night. His finish made it 49-46.
"I think (Wanamaker) just found a way," Dixon said, referring to his confidence in going to the basket. "It's not an easy game. You're not going to get easy drives. There' going to be bumps in the lane. There's going to be contact against West Virginia. There's no easy baskets. There's no easy drives. He just stuck with it."
Things got physical, as they often do in this series, as Taylor and Pepper got tangled up underneath after a loose ball. Robinson stepped in to separate the players, but the result was a foul on Pepper, followed by offsetting technical fouls on both players. Taylor's free throws put Pitt up 51-46 with 7:13 left.
West Virginia came back to within two at 57-55 after another bucket from Kilicli, who drove the lane against McGhee—as he had done a lot on Monday night—connected on the layup, and drew a foul on McGhee, his fourth. Interestingly, McGhee had re-entered the game less than two minutes ago. Kilicli re-entered the game at the same time. During a span of 1:44, Kilicli scored five points against McGhee, to bring his team back to within one, trailing just 59-58.
On West Virginia's next possession, down by just one, Pitt made a rare switch to a 2-3 zone. It paid off, as Kilicli missed a three-pointer. On the offensive side, Pitt continued to do what worked well all night—driving to the basket. Brown added another drive, and also drew the foul, putting Pitt up 61-58. He missed his free throw, but Pitt forced another missed three-pointer on the defensive end. Wanamaker came up with the rebound, then pushed the ball all the way up court. He finished with the layup to put Pitt back up by five, at 63-58.
"I threw in the zone one time, and that was tough for me to watch," Dixon joked. "I wanted to pull away and not look, but we did it. It worked, and I think it just took them out of their rhythm a little bit."
Though Dixon wasn't all in favor of moving to the 2-3 zone, the move sparked Pitt's finish. The Panthers went up 71-62—its biggest lead at nine, with 19 seconds left. Jones added a layup in the paint, and Bryant added a pair of free throws for the Mountaineers down the stretch, but Pitt finished off with the 71-66 win.
After shooting just 29 percent in the first half, the Panthers shot 60.7 percent in the second half, converting 17-of-28 shots from the field.
"I thought we missed some open shots (in the first half)," Dixon said. "You're talking 61 percent (in the second half) against a very good team, in their place, which is a pretty efficient number with three turnovers in the second half. It's hard to find something wrong with it."