The Mountaineers (20-8, 8-7), quickly falling from NCAA consideration, failed to contain any of Pitt's weapons in the second half after leading at the break. The Panthers, down 32-29, opened the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 38-32 lead with 16:25 left. It never trailed again. The push was a showcase of Pitt's all-around versatility against WVU's lack of interior ability. Aaron Gray got to the line on the first two trips via Pitt's inside push, then hit a jumper on the third trip. And after Levon Kendall added another inside hoop, Fields buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to end the run.
"In the last few games they have been playing as well as any team in the country," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said. "They certainly showed our guys why they have been successful."
It mattered little that West Virginia hit three 3-pointers over as many minutes to stay close. Pitt relentlessly attacked inside and out and forced WVU to continue to take long threes, 22 of 33 of which missed. The Mountaineers, led by 14 points from Darris Nichols, did pull as close as 49-48 with 9:27 left, but Kendall hit a pair of free throws, Mike Cook nailed a three and substitute Tyrell Biggs scored consecutive hoops, all within two minutes. West Virginia could only answer with a deep 3-pointer from Jamie Smalligan in falling behind 61-51. It never got closer than nine points afterward in falling to 2-6 in Big East road games.
Any doubt in the outcome was dashed when Fields buried a fallaway jumper for a 69-60 lead with two minutes left. Chants of "NIT, NIT!" rose from the Petersen Events Center crowd. One fan raised a sign that read "You can't spell Mountaineers without NIT." It certainly appears West Virginia, without winning its season finale' against last-place Cincinnati – whose only Big East win came over the Mountaineers – and at least one Big East Tournament game, will be off the bubble on Selection Sunday after floundering against an increasingly better schedule down the stretch. West Virginia, once 18-5, lost twice to Pitt, at No. 9 Georgetown and at Providence within the last 20 days in failing to record a road victory over a league team with a winning record.
"We have to shoot at an extremely high rate to play with the strength and skill they have inside with Gray and Kendall," Beilein said. "There are some things you can't replicate, like strength inside and experience and moxie in the game."
Pitt finished with a 28-18 advantage in points in the paint and shot a whopping 60.4 percent in the game, including 69.6 percent in the second half. It was the Panthers' third-best shooting performance this season. Two of its five best shooting games have come against West Virginia, much of that coming from Gray and Kendall, who added 12 points apiece and combined for 22 rebounds. The Mountaineers did manage 44 points outside of 3-pointers against the best scoring defense within Big East play. Joe Mazzulla and Da'Sean Butler came off the bench to score 11 and 10 points. Nichols was the only WVU starter in double figures. Pitt had 24 assists to 11 turnovers, numbers usually more akin to WVU's style.
"That was a great second half," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "I don't know how much better we could do. The numbers speak for themselves. It was great to see the seniors play well. I am not at all surprised. We are right where we want to be."
Pitt, 16-2 at home this season, can win the Big East with a victory at Marquette on March 3 and a Georgetown loss to Connecticut on the same day. WVU will finish no better than seventh place in the league because it loses the tiebreaker with Marquette, who it could tie should the Golden Eagles lose to Georgetown. It owns the tiebreaker over DePaul and Villanova via wins head-to-head.
"Our confidence is as high as it's ever been," Nichols said. "We can't get down on ourselves right now because that is not going to help us win games in the long run. We can't get down on ourselves and lose confidence."
West Virginia did begin to mimic Pitt and attack the basket after falling behind 23-18 with 5:38 left. Nichols drove past Fields and Gray for two consecutive hoops to jumpstart a 9-0 run that put WVU ahead 27-23. Pitt hit consecutive threes before Nichols answered with one of his own. Alexander's jumper with six seconds left gave the Mountaineers a 32-29 edge at the break.
WVU, however, set an early tone by missing five of its first six shots, including missing four 3-pointers. That, combined with the inside advantage via Gray and Kendall, put Pitt ahead 21-16 with almost seven minutes left in the half before Nichols scored seven of the Mountaineers' final 14 points. The guard's aggressiveness – he had 11 at the half – led to 14 points off the first seven Pitt turnovers. West Virginia managed a 14-14 tie in points in the paint while hitting 54.2 percent of its field goals in the opening period, but that dissipated quickly in the second half as Pitt's senior class won its 101st career game.