WVU, from down 10 after the half, pulled within two points twice in the final 2:40. It had a chance to tie multiple times, the last realistically with 6.9 seconds left. The Mountaineers inbounded the ball to Pittsnogle, who did not have his feet squared but threw up a decent looking 3-point shot that hit off the rim.
Jo Herber then fouled UC's Chadd Moore – his fifth foul – who missed the front end of a one-and-one to give WVU another chance. Pittsnogle was intentionally fouled on the next possession. He hit the first end of the one-and-one and tried to miss the second, hoping for a tip-in and tie or kick-out for the win.
His shot instead rattled against the rim several times before falling through, essentially sealing the game. After another UC free throw miss, WVU's final desperation shot came from Frank Young, whose off-balance heave from halfcourt missed everything.
"This had an NCAA-type atmosphere," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "They just didn't miss. They shot 54 percent, but I feel like they shot 80 percent. We made them make tough shots, but we had trouble staying in front of them. It's a great defensive team we just played, but we scored 75 points."
Indeed, Cincinnati, led by Eric Hicks' 18 points, had all four of its seniors score more points than their season average. It had three other players score 15 or more points in its most balanced effort of the year. It also made 13 of 15 free throws, its pair of misses coming in the final minute to give WVU a chance.
Mike Gansey added 20 points for West Virginia, 17 in the second half. He hit five of WVU's 12 3-pointers, catching fire late with three in the final nine minutes and two within one minute that allowed the Mountaineers to keep pace with five minutes left.
Gansey was called for a bogus walk on a made shot that would have tied the game at 75-75. That play, a drive and jump stop with a one-foot pivot leading to a made inside jumper, followed Patrick Beilein's 3-pointer to pull West Virginia within 75-73 with 2:40 remaining.
"That should never…it should be so much of a walk you don't have to look at it," John Beilein said. "Let a guy get away with one rather than call one that's not there. That should never, ever happen."
Frank Young added 13 points in his finest performance in the last dozen games. He hit his first two 3-pointers and three of four in the game (the lone miss was the shot at the buzzer) after missing 16 of his past 17.
"They played an incredible offensive game," John Beilein said. "But we got Frank Young and Mike Gansey back today. You don't treat it like a win, but, going into the tournament, I think there is some momentum."
Especially for Pittsnogle, who handled interior-based Cincinnati. He and Young rebounded well, and West Virginia got other board contributions from Beilein. Pittsnogle also hit several hooks inside and converted a three-point play off his own miss, when he outfought Hicks and hit the putback and resulting free throw.
The loss was caused more by WVU's inability to slow Devon Downey in the lane. Downey had 16 points, the majority on turnaround jumpers off drives. His scoring kept the Mountaineers from finally taking the lead, and his ability to drive opened teammates on the wing for drive-and-kicks.
The game's pace might only have been matched by WVU and Marquette earlier this season. The teams traded blows early in the second half and continued throughout. Cincinnati led the entire final 29 minutes, but never by more than five after WVU pulled from down 11 – 45-34 with 17:30 left on Moore's 3-pointer – to within 66-61 on the first of two consecutive Gansey 3-pointers.
"He has to be more assertive and have more confidence in his game than he has," John Beilein said of Gansey. "He is a better player than what he has shown."
West Virginia forced just seven turnovers and had an eight point deficit at the foul line. The Mountaineers, outrebounded 30-26, are still guaranteed the No. 3 seeding for the Big East Tournament, while the win might have gotten the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament for the 15th consecutive season.
WVU will play the winner of the Nos. 6 versus 11 game. Pitt will finish sixth if Marquette beats Providence, but could be fifth if the Golden Eagles lose. The No. 11 team remains undecided.
The first half played out much like the second, only with more runs. West Virginia threw the first and last punches. It was Cincinnati's middle combination, however, that put WVU down 37-31 at the break.
The Mountaineers trailed 12-7 as UC used Senior Day momentum for an early lead off a pair of surprise 3-pointers (Hicks and Jihad Muhammed) and drives by Downey. WVU answered with a 9-0 run to pull ahead 16-12 with 13:37 left on points from every starter except Gansey, who had just three first-half points on two shots.
Young capped the run with his second 3-pointer in as many shots. He also had three rebounds early, and stayed in the rotation longer than normal as WVU substituted around him, instead of for him due to solid play.
Cincinnati answered with a 14-2 run that was part of a larger 19-4 push that gave UC its largest lead of the game at a 33-23 with 3:16 remaining in the first half.
The Bearcats extended their man defense, forcing West Virginia – which to that point had used backdoor buckets and inside feeds to Pittsnogle – away from the basket while effectively doubling Beilein out front. That bottled the backdoor cuts as well, and Rob Summers, inserted for one minute for Pittsnogle, could not pull Hicks away from the bucket. WVU went three trips without a quality shot, managing just three long 3-pointers as the shot clock expired.
Hicks scored eight points during the run, including the first six on two free throws, a bucket inside and a foul line jumper. He ended the push with a dunk. Muhammed scored five points, including his second 3-pointer of the half, and McGowan added four before WVU called timeout.
That stemmed the flow and led to an 8-3 closing run that pulled West Virginia within six at the break. Beilein and Gansey hit 3-pointers and Pittsnogle added a putback inside off a miss. Hicks scored inside to finish the offense with his 13th point with 43 seconds left as WVU could not convert and James White was called for a charge on Herber with 1.7 seconds left in the half.
WVU was outrebounded only 17-14 in the first half, but UC hit 13 of its 25 shots (52 percent) to WVU's 41.9 and went 8-for-8 from the foul line. The Mountaineers were 0-1.
Cincinnati has now beaten all four Big East teams it lost to in the first game of the season-series.