Ramon's Trey Sinks WVU

PITTSBURGH – Wellington Smith slid off onto Keith Benjamin on the game's final possession to allow Ronald Ramon to drill an uncontested 3-pointer from the left wing as No. 21 Pitt beat West Virginia 55-54 Thursday.

Alex Ruoff's free throw put the Mountaineers ahead 54-52 before Pitt moved the ball across halfcourt and called timeout with eight seconds left. It was forced to the perimeter after three passes before Benjamin drove and appeared ready to take an off-balance jumper. Instead, he kicked to Ramon, open behind the arc after Smith sagged to cover Benjamin. The shot swished through as time expired to send West Virginia to its third loss in four games.

"We said it 10 times: Don't leave Ramon or Young no mater the circumstance," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "For some reason, we followed Benjamin down the lane and left Ramon open. We were playing to switch every screen in a straight man. We switched out and left open the one guy that we didn't want to leave open. The drive doesn't beat us. Only the three beats us. But we leave the best player open. Do you think someone would leave Darris Nichols open for a three in the same situation?"

The Mountaineers were in position to become the first team to defeat the Panthers twice at the Pete. Instead, they have fallen into the season's second mini-slide. That, coupled with a closing schedule that allows for few marquee wins, likely meant that the game was a final chance to make an NCAA Tournament statement. The win continued Pitt's streak of alternating victories and defeats over its last seven games and made it 93-9 all-time in the Petersen Events Center, including 4-1 against its rival.

West Virginia (16-7, 5-5 Big East) was led by Darris Nichols and Joe Mazzulla, who scored 16 and 15, points, respectfully. Just two Panthers – Sam Young and Benjamin – reach 10, but that was enough in a game in which WVU missed nine of its final 11 free throws. In a bizarre twist, two made free throws by Joe Alexander were taken off the board at about the five-minute mark when officials ruled Cam Throughman should instead have been shooting. Alexander's makes pulled the Mountaineers within 48-47; Throughman's pair of misses left them down 48-45 with five minutes left.

The deficit went to 50-45 before Mazzulla and Nichols took over. The duo combined for the next eight points as WVU forged a 53-50 lead into the final minute. Benjamin scored on an inbounds lay-in and Ruoff made the last of two free throws to setup the final sequence. Huggins claimed that, on the possession in which West Virginia led 53-52, he ran a play for a player who, during the execution, suddenly acted as though he did not want the ball. Huggins refused to identify the player, but did say he would never run a play for him again. The Mountaineers settled for Nichols' 3-point miss, rebounded by Benjamin. Nichols, Ruoff, Smith, Da'Sean Butler and Mazzulla were in the game at that point.

"It was a great win for us, and we never quit trying," said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, whose team has won 13 of 14 at home this season. "It's obviously a great win and a great shot by a great player. It's a great win against a great team."

West Virginia finished just 19 of 53 from the field (35.8 percent) for the game, but managed just a 39-35 deficit on the boards against the Big East's best rebounding team. Pitt (18-5, 6-4) made 20 of 50 shots, but trailed for all of the last two-plus minutes before Ramon's three. He finished with eight points and gave the Mountaineers their second loss in 17 games when leading at the half.

WVU actually opened the second half hitting two threes on three shots, part of a run in which it made five 3-pointers in seven field goals. That started a series of pushes; Pitt went on a 8-0 run that was answered by WVU's 5-0 spurt for a 40-36 advantage with 12 minutes remaining. That was the 10th lead change of 13 in the game. The teams would play to eight ties, including ones at 40, 42 and 45, the last with approximately seven minutes remaining.

Cam Thoroughman failed to score, but again played well in spurts for Alexander, who had struggled early handling Dejuan Blair in the paint. Throughman entered with five minutes played and bodied up the 270-pounder to force one of Pitt's 11 turnovers when Blair anticipated contact and stumbled in the lane. Nichols hit a driving lay-up off the travel call to start a 6-0 run that put WVU ahead 13-9 with 12 minutes left in the opening period. Pitt answered with consecutive treys to jumpstart a 10-0 run before the Mountaineers connected on three threes over the final five minutes – including a pair by Mazzulla that hit only net – to lead 27-26 at the break.

The teams had nearly identical stats at that point. Pitt made nine of 25 shots to West Virginia's seven of 25, with the Mountaineers making four 3-pointers to the Panthers' two. Pitt had a rebounding edge of four, but just five of its 21 were offensive, leading to four second-chance points. The Mountaineers now have one week off before facing Rutgers on Valentine's Day evening.

Notes: The team unveiled their new gold uniforms for the game. The tighter tops and looser pants were trimmed out in blue piping with white numerals trimmed in blue. The words ‘West Virginia' were also in blue. Also, Huggins is now 0-3 versus Pitt; his unranked teams lost two games to No. 14 and No. 3 rated Panther squads by a combined six points before losing tonight.

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