Pitt came out with a good shooting performance in the first half. In the end, a dominant performance from West Virginia's inside tandem of Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones was too much for the Panthers to overcome, in a 66-48 loss at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday night.
"We're just trying to win," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "When you have Deniz and KJ, why wouldn't you throw it (inside)."
"The game got away from us in the second half, there's not a lot we can say," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon added. "The first half, we battled, got in some foul trouble, found a way with the zone, found a way to keep it to a one-point game. Impatient with what we were trying to do offensively. We didn't play very well. We're going to get ready for South Florida on Sunday."
The Panthers fall to 15-12 overall, 4-10 in the Big East. West Virginia improves to 17-10, 7-7. Jones finished with a double-double for the Mountaineers—16 points and 13 rebounds. Kilicli added another 14 points. Gary Browne (12) and Darryl Bryant (15) also finished in double-figures.
Travon Woodall was the lone Panther in double-figures, leading Pitt with 12 points. J.J. Moore added 10 points—his first game with double-figures since the Rutgers game on January 11. Woodall and Ashton Gibbs combined to go 7-of-27 (25.9%) from the field. The rest of the Pitt team shot a collective 10-of-19 (52.6%) from the field.
Though it was pretty even across the stat sheet in every category, the first half can be summed up by this: Pitt shot 46 percent, but because they turned the ball over nine times, West Virginia led for the first 16 minutes of the game. Pitt came back to lead by as many as three late in the half, but the Mountaineers were able to sneak into halftime with a 26-25 lead.
"There were overplays, some unforced ones," Dixon said of the turnovers. "The overplays, they denied out in some situations, and we didn't do a good enough job; driving into the same side, driving into help defense. That's what we refer to as impatience. They were far more patient than we were. It continues to be a challenge for us right now."
Pitt outshot the Mountaineers in the first half 45.5 %(10-22) to 42.3% (11-26). Pitt's nine turnovers, doubled with eight points off those nine turnovers for the Mountaineers, somehow led to the one-point West Virginia lead. Huggins credited his team's man defense—a switch from the previous meeting with Pitt.
"We played all man in Morgantown," Huggins said. "We haven't been very good in the matchup. We didn't do a very good job. We did a much better job this time around."
Kilicli started things off early with his hook shot. He scored six of the first nine points for the Mountaineers. Pitt had no answer for him early. They tried defending him with Zanna, then Taylor—who was called for a foul on Kilicli's second field goal of the night, and Malcolm Gilbert.
Kilicli scored 6 of the first nine points for West Virginia, en route to an early 9-4 lead. Lamar Patterson answered with a three to keep it close, 9-7. Nasir Robinson was fouled on his way to the hoop by Kevin Jones, then converted 1-of-2 free throws.
Moore converted Pitt's other three-pointer of the first half. The Panthers were 2-of-7 from three-point range in the first half, with Patterson and Moore contributing. Moore's three-pointer made it a 14-13 deficit. Worse yet, the Panthers turned the ball over three times in the next three minutes. Thankfullly, the Mountaineers were only able to capitalize with one basket.
That's when Pitt made it a 16-15 deficit. Travon Woodall went underneath with a reverse layup, up against big men Kilicli and Kevin Jones.
Even when Pitt did get some defense inside, they still couldn't capitalize. Gilbert—who played nine minutes in the first half—blocked a shot inside. Woodall chased the ball down to help gain possession for Pitt, but the Panthers gave it right back. Truck Bryant came up with the steal and easy layup, making it 20-17.
After that, though, Pitt actually made its move. Woodall found Zanna inside, who after re-entering the game, snuck behind Kilicli for an easy layup. West Virginia still led 20-19.
Gibbs gave Pitt its first lead of the half with 3:43 left. On his way to the net, he drew a foul, then converted both shots. Pitt led 22-20. Woodall added some insurance on the next Pitt series, taking a drive all the way for an uncontested layup. Pitt looked to be building steam, up 23-20. With the turnover bug seemingly out of the way, it looked like if they could keep up with their solid shooting performance, they might be able to build more of a lead.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Jones takes advantage of some marginable space between him and Zanna, hitting a mid-range jumper to cut it to 23-22.
Zanna then answered with an easy tip back off a missed layup by Woodall to give Pitt the lead back, 25-24 with the one-minute mark closing in. Kilicli answered with a layup underneath. West Virginia took the lead back at 26-25. With under a minute to go, Pitt wasn't able to run the half out. They were able to run the shot clock down. They did just that, as Woodall drove into the paint, getting off a short jumper with six left on the shot clock. The ball bounced back out, and West Virginia got the defensive rebound. Bob Huggins called timeout with 14.5 seconds left in the half to set something up.
Truck Bryant missed a long-range three-pointer. Woodall came down with the rebound and chucked up a half-court shot as time expired.
Pitt couldn't get close as the second half started. Two-pointers from Robinson and Zanna each made it a one-point game. The Panthers couldn't come up with the stops on the defense end. A pair of John Johnson free throws later made it a 33-31 deficit.
West Virginia took a 38-31 lead with 12:30 left. That marked the largest lead for either tem. Moore answered with a three-pointer. On the other end was Kilicli—defended by Taylor this time—with his patented one-handed hook shot, which put the Mountaineers back up by seven.
Pitt got some added momentum after its T-Shirt toss promotion, a West Virginia fan threw a T-shirt back on the floor. He was ejected for throwing an object on the floor. Pitt picked up a little momentum from the crowd's reaction. Woodall converted a three-point play to make it a 40-36 game, with 11 minutes left in the game. It looked like Pitt was ready to turn the corner, just like they did in the first half. The only difference was a 29.2% (7-of-24) shooting performance in the second half, with an additional eight turnovers.
"We got a bunch of good looks, the same looks we were getting last time (on January 30)," Woodall said. "We just didn't knock (the shots) down tonight for whatever reason."
West Virginia answered, going back up 42-36, then followed with another jumper from Jones, as West Virginia went up by eight.
West Virginia went up by ten off a forceful dunk by Kilicli, who powered his way over Taylor and drew the foul. Kilicli converted the free throw, as Taylor picked up his third foul of the game. West Virginia led 47-36.
It all proved too much. Pitt shot the ball well in the first half, even when they were still turning the ball over. Kilicli and Jones were getting their shots. The Panthers faced much of the same in the second half. Only this time, their poor second-half shooting led to a 52-36 deficit with 16 minutes left. After Woodall's layup, that made it a four-point game, the Panthers went without a field goal for the next six minutes. The Panthers were 0-of-4 during that stretch with an additional three turnovers. The Panthers didn't get another bucket until another three-pointer from Moore made it a 52-39 game, with just under six minutes left. Pitt couldn't get any closer.
"Definitely, they scored on a bunch of our turnovers," Woodall said. "They had nine steals, they converted on most of our turnovers. That was definitely the big key. I put that on myself."