After trailing early, WVU took the lead at 18-16 and never trailed again, although it did once fall into a 31-31 tie. The Mountaineers pushed out to leads of seven and eight points in the second half, and had a couple of chances to put the Bulls away, but were never able to make the decisive play to do so.
After Mike Gansey stole an inbounds pass to set up a Pat Beilein layup that gave WVU a nine point lead at 55-46, the hyperkinetic senior looked ready to put the game away as he pounced on another loose ball that would have yielded a runout for the Mountaineers. However, the ball slipped through his fingers and went directly to a Bull for a layup. That turn of events keyed a 7-0 run that brought the home team to within two points.
USF had a chance to tie the game after J.D. Collins missed two free throws, but West Virginia got the ball back, milked the clock through several USF fouls, then got the win when Kevin Pittsnogle drilled both ends of a one and one to give the Mountaineers a four-point win.
"It's always going to be like this on the road," head coach John Beilein said. "We got outrebounded by 20, shot 25 % and still win. If we shoot, the game doesn't have to end like this."
WVU did not shoot, however, making just over 41% from the field, which allowed the Bulls to stay in the game. Although USF was never able to retake the lead in the second half, they made enough shots to keep touch with the struggling Mountaineers.
If not for Mike Gansey, WVU would have been in dire trouble in the first half. Gansey scored nine consecutive points off steals to break a 16-16 tie and give WVU a 25-16 cushion. All four of the senior forward's buckets in the stretch came on fast break layups, with one turning into a three-point play when he was fouled.
Other than Gansey's stretch, the Mountaineers were very sluggish in the opening twenty minutes. USF's sticky man to man defense allowed WVU few open looks at the hoop, and West Virginia was able to shake free for just one of its signature back door cuts, this one coming on a feed from Alex Ruoff to Frank Young. West Virginia's offense lacked the free flow and crisp passing it is noted for, and often devolved into one on one forays just to get a shot off before the clock expired. WVU had as many conventional three point plays (2) as it did three-point shots.
"They were physical, and even Oklahoma was not that physical with us," Beilein said of USF's man-to-man defense, which obviously bothered his club. "They were letting [Kevin] get the ball then shutting out J.D. and Pat and Joe so they couldn't get it. They guarded us very well."
WVU, now 9-3 on the season, was led by Gansey's 18 points. Kevin Pittsnogle had 16 in the low scoring contest. Patrick Beilein had two three-pointers, one in each half, to become WVU's all-time leader in threes with 201. He passed Chris Leonard, who had an even 200 for his career.
West Virginia will now travel to Philadelphia for Sunday's contest with Villanova. Classes are still out on the WVU campus, and do not restart until next Monday. The Wildcats defeated Louisville on Thursday night at Freedom Hall in Kentucky.