Burned by its own implosion from behind the arc on six of 27 shooting, WVU was scorched by a familiar foe. Sam Young scored a career-high 21 points – his fourth straight double-digit game versus WVU for a player averaging just five – and twice dashed building momentum in key stretches that sealed, and saved, the game.
Down 49-35 with seven minutes left, West Virginia pieced together its lone run of the contest. It scored 10 straight points to rally to 49-45, using a mix of backdoors, 3-pointers and stifling defense that was absent for the other 36 game minutes. After five quick points, consecutive blocks by Joe Alexander slowed the Panthers. Darris Nichols, scoreless for the first 30 minutes, hit five straight points and suddenly West Virginia, despite itself, was now within 49-45 with five minutes left, threatening to pull an upset seemingly impossible in the first half.
Then there was Young. The forward broke free from a trap and nailed a 3-pointer from the corner that quieted a rowdy Coliseum crowd of 14,336. It was the dagger in a slow, agonizing death of a loss that showed Pitt, off to its best Big East start in school history, had no signs of rust despite nine days between games and had scouted WVU as well as any foe. Part of that was realizing Young was a potent weapon, and one that had hurt the Mountaineers in the past. After West Virginia had pulled within 31-24 and appeared to be building momentum with Frank Young's 3-pointer and his fadeaway jumper from the corner, Young took over, scoring the next eight points, part of an 12-2 Pitt run that seemingly sealed the game with a 43-26 lead with 10 minutes remaining before the final WVU rally. It was Pitt's largest lead.
"He is a great athlete. We were not surprised," said WVU's Frank Young, who until his 3-pointer in the second half had missed 17 of his last 18 over four games against the Panthers. "He is capable of doing what he did tonight. He has done that in the past and played pretty well against us last year. We have to try and key on him more in the future. When (starter Levon) Kendall gets in foul trouble, they bring him in and he does the job."
As does Pitt's entire bench. Aaron Gray was the lone starter in double-figures for Pitt, with 14. Its bench, by far the deepest in the league, scored 31, including Young's 21 and 10 from sharpshooter Ronald Ramon, who made two threes to keep WVU down by more than eight. West Virginia was led by 14 from Da'Sean Butler and 12 from Frank Young, though that came on four of 12 shooting.
"Some of their bench guys could start for other Big East teams," Nichols said. "Young picked a good game to step up, and the defense did, too. They are not one of those teams that are going to pressure you all game, but they play good contain. The are overall a good defensive team. They have good quick guards on the outside and good guys down low that take up space down low. They are so wide. We did not shoot well, and that compounds that."
West Virginia finished 16 of 49 from the field (32.7 percent) to Pitt's 24 of 46 (52.2 percent). Much of that was because the Panthers forced WVU to the outside, while it dominated the paint with a 20-point edge, 34-14. West Virginia hit just one field goal over the final four minutes after their rally and were never in the game other than the brief stretch. It was a sluggish performance from a team in search of a third consecutive NCAA berth that still has yet to beat a squad in the top half of the Big East or register a great win this season.
"We have to play at a higher level to beat them," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "They are playing at the highest level of anybody in the country. Sam Young was incredible tonight. You're not going to get many open shots against Pitt. I don't care who you are. They are just better than us right now and it's that simple. They should be better than us. They're missing (Carl) Krauser and we're missing five guys. They've got a coach who knows what he's doing and they beat us well."
West Virginia missed eight of its first 10 shots and 12 of its first 15. By then it trailed 16-7, a dozen Pitt points having come from the inside. It was a showcase of execution defensively and efficiency on offense. The Panthers stuffed WVU's motion sets by bodying up and cutting off passing lanes and the outside shot, then punched the ball inside to Gray and Young. As the Mountaineers' bricks mounted, Pitt's lead continued to build. West Virginia fed the growing gap via turnovers on three consecutive trips and Cook's lay-up off a steal put Pitt ahead 25-12 with 4:10 left. It was the last of seven straight Panther points; UP took a 27-17 edge into the half.
It was West Virginia's lowest scoring first half of the season, mainly due to its six for 25 shooting from the field, including three of 16 from 3-point range. WVU scored 21 points against Notre Dame and Marshall. It was the second-lowest for Pitt, which scored 24 against Connecticut. Pitt, the nation's leader in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.58, had nine turnovers against just seven assists in a sloppy, physical first half. The nine turnovers led to 13 WVU points. Pitt, which has now won 11 of its last 12, shot 50 percent, 12 of 24, and scored 20 of its points in the paint.
"It's worse when it's a rival like this," Joe Alexander said of the loss. "It hurts. When we were on that run it was so loud I could not hear anything. This was not an unwinnable game for us. I don't know what we shot, but it was not good. We shoot well and this is our game."
West Virginia, losers for the eighth time in 11 games against its rival, has another chance at a top 10 team when it hosts No. 2 UCLA, which it defeated last year on the road.
"We've got to rest a lot and we've got a 1 o'clock start on Saturday," said Beilein, who failed to defeat his 17th ranked team in four-plus years at WVU. "We have to look at the film and we'll see some of the same tendencies of how UCLA plays."