Bullied and Beaten

PITTSBURGH – There would be no Pittsnogling here, though it was just a little shuffle. Just a little hold. A knick here, a knock there. And then he got the one for the thumb.

And as Kevin Pittsnogle walked to the bench, having fouled out with 6:42 left, he took with him West Virginia's hope for a ninth-straight Big East win. It was Pittsnogle, though not the same one, that had twice rallied the No. 9 Mountaineers past their rival last season, and it would be him that would put an early sealer on this 57-53 Pitt win.

The 6-11 center's typical 20-point line was dashed to nothing. A shutout, a first since Villanova last season, and four turnovers to go with that. He hadn't hit that low all year. And this is the problem that West Virginia's wizard must confront annually: What to do when the 3-point shot doesn't fall, belying a six of 27 chalk-up from behind the arc.

John Beilein prodded Pittsnogle. He coaxed him. He chewed on him after he took two early 3-pointers early in possessions. That had worked last year, when Pittsnogle scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to shock Pitt. But there was nothing, no response. Just an ugly, 0-12 box score, 0-6 from behind the arc. There were just too many waves, too good of defense played by too many good players.

It took near divine powers for West Virginia – the anomaly of statistical anomoly's – to be tied at the break with Pitt. It was behind on assist-to-turnover ratio, an area in which it leads the Big East. The free-flowing offensive system scored just 22 points and hit a stopgap with Pitt's man defense and a lackadaisical approach. It missed 15 of its first 17 shots – and 12 of its first 13 – and did not hit a 3-pointer in the initial eight tries.

Pittsnogle had himself missed five by halftime.

"We're a lot deeper than last season," said Pitt center Aaron Gray, who tied the game-high with 16 points. "We rotated in and out. We didn't leave (Pittsnogle)."

When Pittsnogle left them, West Virginia could offer only Rob Summers, a veritable oaf compared to Pittsnogle's stream-lined game. Summers played a season-high 10 minutes and managed the same line as Pittsnogle.

Mike Gansey? He was checked all game, though he did score a team-high 12 points. J.D. Collins and Jo Herber added seven each, but only the latter seemed capable of punishing a physical defense that stifled WVU's attack.

"They ran us out of our stuff and got in our heads," Herber said. And that was it. Pitt did nothing special in remaining unbeaten at home this year (14-0) aside from making 11 of 21 shots in the second half. The No. 14 Panthers (18-3, 7-3) never got ahead by more than 10, 40-30 on 16-point performer Ronald Ramon's pair of 3-pointers at the 11:47 and 10:12 marks. West Virginia chipped at that lead, like it had deficits of five and seven and eight points.

It was down by the largest mark when Pittsnogle exited, a game highlight for the Pitt student section. Yet it pulled within five twice and had a chance to be within three points on Pat Beilein's wide open three from the right corner. That, too, missed, and the lone other chance came at the one-minute mark, when the Mountaineers were down just 51-48 after Frank Young's drive.

Pitt slowed the pace and got the ball to point guard Carl Krauser allowing the drive and kick or drive and finish options. Krauser, who scored five of his eight points in the final minute, took Collins off the dribble and hit a short lay-in in the lane. Game, Pitt.

"You get us open, we can make plays," Gray said. "Carl did that. He played a great game and we got key time from other players."

West Virginia (17-5, 8-1) compounded problems by missing eight of nine second half 3-pointers and 35 of 53 shots overall – by far its worst percentage (23.1) of the season.

"We never gave ourselves a chance," said Beilein, who had 11 of WVU's 18 bench points in its first road loss. And John Beilein? After his son hit a final three – the Mountaineers only one of the second half – to pull WVU within the hopeless 57-53 spread with less than a second left, he called timeout. He was still coaching, prepping for the next match.

"We did our best to get open looks," John Beilein said. "I don't like the way we handled a lot of things in this game. But we will learn from it. They just have very good defenders." Better than last year, or too good to match?

"It certainly looked like it this game," he said.

Notes:

Herber tied Darryl Prue's school record for minutes played at 3,788. He played 25 minutes against Pitt.

WVU had eight assists and 11 turnovers, a rarity for a team that leads the Big East in the ratio.


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