West Virginia returned home looking for its second consecutive win over a Top 25 foe after Thursday's smackdown at Georgetown. Instead, the Mountaineers received a second-half schooling from powerful Pitt. The Panthers, led by their outstanding trio of DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young, pulled away in the second half to easily dispatch the Mountaineers by a final of 79-67.
"As tough as a place as this is to play and how of a team (West Virginia) is and how well-coached they are, among other things, this is a very impressive win for us and a very good win in a lot of ways," said veteran Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon.
The Panthers (18-1, 6-1 in Big East play) overcame some early foul trouble for Young, who picked up two personals in the first have and was whistled for his third at the outset of the second half. With West Virginia hanging around in Young's absence, Dixon rolled the dice and re-inserted his senior standout with 15:54 to play. Dixon's gamble paid off, as Young scored 16 points after re-entering the game and avoided the referee's whistle while the Panthers ran their lead to as big as 16 points in the second half.
Young set up his monster second half in the opening 20 minutes. Though he scored just six first-half points, he did so by driving to the hoop. This left the Mountaineers with no choice but to respect Young's ability to score off the dribble in the second half. WVU's defenders stepped back ever so slightly from Young to keep him from driving to the hoop, which gave the Clinton, Md. native just enough room to get off his soft mid-range jump shot.
"That is what he does," Dixon said. "There are times when we want him to get the basketball and post up a little more, but he is shooting a pretty good percentage from three. We want him to get to the free throw line and he is able to do that a little bit more."
Of course with as many talented players as Pitt has, Young was anything but a one-man show. Blair, the superb sophomore center, recorded yet another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. West Virginia attempted to front Blair, but was unsuccessful in doing so most of the time, which allowed the 6-7, 265-pound Pittsburgh native to catch the ball on the block. With WVU's lack of inside size, allowing Blair to catch the ball that close to the basket was almost the same as putting two points on the board.
Fields, the senior point guard from Brooklyn, was his normal productive self in guiding the Panthers to their 18th win in 19 tries. Fields finished with 13 points and five assists in 33 minutes of play. Freshman guard Jermaine Dixon added 11 points for the Panthers.
While Pitt's trio of stars was effective, West Virginia's effort was inconsistent all around. The Mountaineers played well for much of the first half, building a lead as large as five points in the opening minutes. Devin Ebanks scored nine first-half points for WVU, but his second half was indicative of the team's effort overall.
Ebanks was held scoreless in the second half as Pitt raised its defensive effort to another level. Compounding matters was the fact that WVU's offense lacked flow. After moving the ball well in the first half to get open shots, West Virginia's offense was stagnant in the final frame. Even when they did get open looks, the Mountaineers were seldom able to knock them down. WVU also had 10 second-half turnovers.
"We didn't do enough things right," said West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler, who finished with 21 points on six-of-13 shooting. "We turned the ball over a lot and did a whole bunch of things that are uncharacteristic for us. It kind of showed. They are a good team, a great team and definitely top five in the country. That kind of showed tonight. We have a lot of things we needed to work on."
To be clear, it wasn't as if Pitt did anything drastically different in the first half. Instead, the experience-laded Panthers simply continued their consistent first-half play, while West Virginia whittled away.
"They pretty much did the same things (in the second half) as they did in the first half," Butler said. "They got open shots and made them, which we didn't. We didn't make our shots. They ran offense. The game was close and then they stayed consistent. When they made runs, we did crazy things like going one-on-five. When they're up two or three with us making a run at them, they just ran their offense and made plays. That was a difference in the game."
"They got us out of doing what kept us in the game in the first half," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "We didn't pass the ball and we have to move them. I felt we could rebound as long as we moved them and kept them out of the lane. You can't have those two big, wide bodies (Blair and Tyrell Biggs) stand in the lane."
West Virginia will return to action on Wednesday night when it hosts St. John's. Tipoff at the Coliseum is set for 7:00.