All Brawled Out

The Petersen Events Center and its raucous crowd, including a dominant performance by the Oakland Zoo, had to be the difference in Pitt's stunning 98-95 triple-overtime win against West Virginia Friday night.

Sure, Travon Woodall played his best game this season with 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 31 amazing minutes. Bradley Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown combined for 40 points after scoring none in the team's previous meeting Feb. 3 in Morgantown, W.Va.

Pittsburgh rallied against the No. 5 Mountaineers by hitting the boards late in regulation and overtime despite being out-rebounded 21-12 at halftime and about 20 well into the second half. And Brown and Ashton Gibbs hit two free throws each to seal the win during the waning seconds in the third overtime.

"I didn't think we'd ever have another game like that in the same season, like the one we pulled out against Louisville, but we did it tonight,'' Brown said. "At halftime, Coach said we were going to win the game.

"Even when we were down six with a minute to go, we really believed it. And I think that really helped us push through and make the comeback the way we did. That was from Coach pushing us.''

Pitt (19-6 overall, 8-4 in the Big East) actually trailed by five, 68-63, after two Darryl Bryant free throws with 34.4 seconds remaining. Those points came after WVU missed the the front end of three one-and-one situations in a 15-second span.

But an exception drive and score by Woodall, steal on the ensuing inbounds pass by Wanamaker and 3-pointer by Gibbs with about 25 seconds remaining tied the score at 68-68 to send the game into overtime.

"When you go to the line and miss free throws, and when you're up by three and don't secure the ball ... and then everybody in the gym knew who they wanted to shoot it, including our guys,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "But we let him shoot it. So, we helped. You've got to give them a lot of credit.

"They competed, and Jamie's teams do that. (But) they couldn't have won the game without a lot of help from us. (And) we couldn't stop their penetration, so we went to the 1-3-1 (zone). And it's hard to rebound out of the 1-3-1.''

Wanamaker actually believed he was out of bounds on that play, but the game officials didn't see it that way.

"The ref let the play keep going,'' Wanamaker said. "I saved it and tried to throw it in an area where my teammate was, and thankfully it went to a teammate. And he got the shot in.''

Gibbs played much better than he did in the previous game against the Mountaineers, tying Wanamaker for Pitt's scoring lead with 24 points, including 6-for-13 from 3-point range in 50 minutes of playing time. He made that big trey in regulation and hit the two from the line at the end, but he also clanked a free throw at the end of the second overtime.

That would have given Pitt an insurmountable four-point advantage with 7.1 seconds remaining. Instead, trailing by just one possession, Bryant came down and nailed a 3-pointer to tie the score at 78-78 with 1.8 seconds left and set the stage for a second overtime.

Bryant and Gibbs traded 3s. Brown hit two free throws, and Wanamaker completed a three-point play, and Woodall added two from the line to give Pitt an 88-85 lead with 28.6 seconds left. With the clock running down, WVU's Da'Sean Butler squared up to launch a trey, but he was bumped by Pitt's Gary McGhee and made all three free throws to send the game to a third overtime.

McGhee made up for the transgression with some tenacious rebounding in the third overtime, and he finished with 12 boards. Huggins believed the difference was WVU's lack of ability to defend the Panthers' success driving to the hoop, so the Mountaineers went into a 1-3-1 zone. And that hurt their rebounding.

"Late in the game, that's what made the difference,'' Wanamaker said. "They were out-rebounding us by 12, I think, and once we started rebounding we got back in control of the game. We made more plays, and we came out with the win. (But) our adrenalin was up, and we were just out there playing.

"It was another classic game for us. We wanted to win, and we showed great heart. And we made all the plays at the end. It was very tough for me to watch at the end (after fouling out), but I have a lot of confidence in my teammates that we would win. ... I never put my head down, and we won the game.''

Woodall actually made a shot at the buzzer for Pitt, but he pulled the trigger just a hair late to force another extra five minutes. Woodall's floor play and McGhee's rebounding were crucial in the third OT, and with continued strong play from those two the Panthers could be on the rise again.

"It definitely was a confidence-booster for me,'' Woodall said. "Like I said early on in the season, I think I played with great confidence. But as the season went on, my confidence started going away. But my teammates kept me going, and they helped boost my confidence in practice.

"We played real well together, (and) we gave it all we had tonight. (On the near buzzer-beater), I think I thought too long. I took a look at the clock, but I should have just turned and shot it. I threw up a prayer. Thank God it went in, but it didn't count. Thank God we came out with the win anyway.''

Gibbs believed the best was yet to come for Woodall. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted that when Woodall plays well, the Panthers are a much better team.

"I've been saying that he's going to make us better, and he really played well,'' Coach Dixon said. "He really played within himself, and he was big in so many ways. So, we found a way. We battled, and I believe we can become very good. So, that's what we're working very hard to do.''

But was this Pitt's beat comeback?

"It's the greatest comeback ever since I've been at Pitt,'' Brown said. "We had the Ronald Ramon 3-point buzzer-beater, but I think this tops it the way we fought back in regulation and then in overtime. The first, and the second one was huge. And the third one was even bigger. So, this has to be the greatest comeback victory ever against West Virginia.''

Pitt likely will take a couple days off and then prepare for a road game at Marquette Thursday night at 9.

Notes: Pitt is 6-0 against top-five teams at the Pete. ... This game ties the mark for the longest game in Pitt's basketball history. The previous three-overtime game was at George Washington, a 75-73 Panthers win Jan. 10, 1976. But this was the longest home game for Pitt. ... Brown scored 16 points in 38 minutes. ... The Panthers got 12 points and 15 rebounds from their three centers in 54 minutes. Freshman J.J. Richardson played 11 minutes and tallied four points and two boards, but frosh Dante Taylor played just five minutes with two points and a rebound.

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