Freshman Devin Ebanks kept West Virginia in the game early and finished with 16 points to earn player of the game honors for the Mountaineers against the Panthers.
Ebanks, showing no signs of intimidation against the Panthers on their home court, scored the Mountaineers' first eight points in the contest to help them rally from an early 6-0 deficit. Ebanks kept himself under control in transition, scoring two fast break hoops and avoiding potential charges to help WVU get back in the contest.
For the evening, the ever-improving freshman scored 16 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and 4-6 from the free throw line. He added seven rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot in 36 minutes of action.
Ebanks also had a hoop taken off the board when it was ruled that he lost control of the ball while being fouled before regaining it and dropping it through the hoop. However, he made both ensuing free throws to convert the scoring chance.
The officiating crew, headed by the most arrogant referee in the country, Curtis Shaw, again totally dominated the game. Six starters were benched in the first half with two fouls each, but with a deeper sub rotation, the Panthers were certainly less affected. The inconsistency of calls also contributed to the low scoring first half in which just 53 total points were scored. Slight bumps were whistled, while bulldozing Pitt picks more suited for the MMA were overlooked. While bruising DeJuan Blair was one of those saddled in the first half, he was allowed to clear paths to the hoop with big blocks that set Levance Fields and Sam Young free in the second half.
"They just physically outmatched us, and they outrebounded us by 16," head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "We're playing freshmen against seniors."
Even with the physical mismatch, West Virginia was still in the game midway through the second half. However, a compendium of errors kept WVU from making a game of it down the stretch. WVU had three turnovers that were simple throwaways. It missed a layup in transition and had three others blocked. It gave up a score off an inbounds pass. On the flip side, Pitt didn't make such errors. The Panthers converted West Virginia miscues into points and built a double digit lead by hitting more than 70% of their shots through the first 16 minutes of the second half. There wasn't anything flashy or spectacular about Pitt's performance -- it was simply very efficient.
West Virginia broke down defensively during much of that stretch, allowing open looks from the rim to the three-point line as the Panthers slowly pulled away.
It's not fair to put so much pressure on two players, but the simple fact is that if both Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler don't play well, WVU likely won't win. Butler got off to a horrendous start, and was clearly pressing and forcing shots in the second half after playing just seven minutes in the opening 20 minutes. That left Huggins with a tough choice -- sit Butler to try to calm him down, or let him go on firing. Huggins chose the latter, but in truth neither choice was a good one on this night. West Virginia is so scoring deficient that it has to keep playing Butler and Ruoff even if they are having bad games. That's what happened on this evening, and Butler's off game meant WVU had little chance to win.