Clank

How does West Virginia win a game in which it opens the contest shooting three of 22 from the field, including 2-14 from three-point range, and gets exactly zero points from Kevin Pittsnogle?

The answer, of course, is that it can't. WVU's horrific shooting, combined with a reluctance, or inability, to drive the ball to the basket, led to an ugly 57-53 loss to Pitt on the road on Thursday.

Although many will attempt to spin these negatives into a positive (e.g., WVU only lost by four points, and on the road) the fact is that West Virginia did very little to counter Pitt's defensive strategy of defending the three-point line. The Mountaineers ended up making just 18 of their 53 shot attempts, including 6-27 from three. Many of those trey attempts came much too early in the possession, and gave the Panthers easy defensive trips.

Leading the parade of futility was a clearly frustrated Pittsnogle, who finished 0-12 from the field and 0-6 from long range. Each of Pittsnogle's three-pointers was short off the front of the rim, but he had plenty of company. Only Patrick Beilein, with three bombs, had more than one successful shot attempt from beyond the arc.

"We were going to have to make some tough shots to win the game," head coach John Beilein said. "You have to credit Pittsburgh, they played great defense on us."

WVU made no shots, tough or otherwise, through the opening minutes of both halves. The Mountaineers did not score thier first field goal until almost seven minutes had run off the first half clock, then nearly repeated that run of futility by scoring just two hoops in the first 7:40 of the second. Meanwhile, the Panthers scored the first five points of each half, and that difference alone was enough to make the difference in the low scoring affair.

WVU has been able to rally and overcome lengthy scoreless stretches this year, but several factors in this contest kept it from mounting a serious threat. The first was uncharacteristic foul trouble which sent Herber, Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey to the bench for several minutes late in the first half. Although the Mountaineers were able to tie the game at the break with that trio riding the pine, it was more due to WVU's defense than its offense. West Virginia had just six field goals in the opening twenty minutes, and only two from inside the arc.

"We played tremendous defense and forced 19 turnovers," Beilein said as he scanned the stat sheet. "But they got to the foul line 22 times, and got Kevin in foul trouble. We had to have a stellar performance to win here, and we certainly didn't get that."

After the horrendous display of the opening half, expectations were that the closing stanza would be better. Those expectations were soon shattered as the Mountaineers continued to fire the ball with all the accuracy of a scud missile. Just twelve WVU shots found the mark in the second half, and even a pair of successful efforts were marred, as Darris Nichols twice badly misfired on free throw attempts after scoring layups. In all, WVU left five points on the court in the form of missed free throws.

On the flip side, Pitt was not much better offensively, but did manage to ride the scoring of Ronald Ramon and the stickbacks of Aaron Gray for the win. Although Ramon was Pitt's only outside threat, WVU allowed him to get loose several times for open threes, and when four of those found the mark Pitt found itself in a strong position for much of the evening. Gray, although missing a coule of short shots, took over the game late and did not allow the Mountaineers to get any closer than three points down the stretch.

West Virginia's difficult road swing continues this weekend, when it travels to Washington, D.C. to take on Georgetown in a rare Sunday evening contest.

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