PoG: WVU - Pitt

By all accounts, Friday night's game couldn't qualify as anything other than heartbreaking for fans of the No. 4 Mountaineers. There were multiple keys to the down-the-stretch collapse of the team -- and a few players whose performances kept WVU in the game during the first two of the three overtime periods.


Da'Sean Butler.

The senior forward did everything he could to keep his team in the contest as it struggled in the first two overtime periods. All told, the Newark, N.J., native scored 15 of his game-high 32 points after regulation.

He did so in a variety of ways. Butler was a nearly unstoppable force from the low block in the extra periods. Time and time again, the Mountaineers worked the ball in to the forward, who used a variety of spin moves to free himself just enough for mid-range jump shots.

He hit three of those field goals. To try to stop him, Pittsburgh had to resort to fouling on most occasions.

After missing a pair of front-ends on 1-and-1 situations in the final minute of regulation, Butler did his best to atone from the charity stripe, hitting nine of his 11 attempts in the overtimes.

That included a perfect 3-of-3 performance after being fouled while attempting a trifecta in the waning moments of the second overtime, tying the game and forcing the third extra period.

To his credit, the Panthers had to make a major adjustment to try to stop him on the next-to-last West Virginia possession of the game. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called timeout and instructed his players to double-team Butler in the post -- even before he had the ball.

That denial was what forced Devin Ebanks to try a shot from the top of the key that was no good, setting up the final sequence.

While Butler won't look back on Friday night's game with any fond memories when his Mountaineer career comes to a close, his performance showed just how important he is to his team's hopes.

As he goes, so goes WVU. His performance in the extra sessions was almost enough to allow the visitors to earn a rare victory at the Petersen Events Center -- despite some otherwise sloppy play.


  • Swing in rebounding dominance.

    For essentially all of regulation, West Virginia had dominated on the glass. At the end of regulation, it held a 15-0 lead in second-chance points as a result of a 16-4 edge in offensive boards.

    But both of those gaps narrowed sharply in the extra frames.

    The Mountaineers would score no more points on second chances. Indeed, head coach Bob Huggins' squad collected only one offensive rebound in the 15 minutes of extra play.

    Pitt, on the other hand, took over in that area. It scored five points on extra opportunities and gathered a staggering seven offensive caroms in the overtimes.

    While players were quick to point the finger at themselves afterwards, saying that it was their lack of focus and energy that allowed the Panthers to take over on the boards, they weren't aided by the switch Huggins made to the 1-3-1 zone defense.

    Make no mistake -- the third-year WVU coach's move was necessary. Before moving to the zone, Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Travon Woodall were having their way down the stretch, driving the lane seemingly at will.

    But Huggins has often said one reason he favors a man-to-man defense is because it puts his players in better position to rebound.

    The deficiencies the Mountaineers have when it comes time to rebound out of the zone were put on full display Friday night. It will have to improve on that if it hopes to be able to play multiple defenses effectively in the postseason.

  • Free throw shooting.

    On again, off again.

    It's a mystifying problem at stretches, and a miraculous strength at others. But if WVU can't become more consistent from the charity stripe, it will endure more heartbreaking losses like this one.

    After going 13-of-17 from the free throw line in the first 39:03 of regulation, the Mountaineers missed three consecutive front ends of 1-and-1 situations in the final 57 seconds of it.

    One of those misses came off the hands of Truck Bryant. The other two were from Butler, the team's senior leader.

    It's a problem with no easy solution. It's not as though the players' shots are off, or the pressure is simply too much for them (see Butler's impressive 3-of-3 performance after being fouled from long range to force the third overtime).

    But it's a problem nonetheless. Players have said time and time again that their charity stripe struggles are a mental problem. If that's the case, they'll need to get their heads together down the stretch.

  • John Flowers.

    The junior forward was an integral part of West Virginia's better stretches of play. It truly hurt when he fouled out with 2:51 remaining in the second overtime.

    Huggins said the Mountaineers' problems were chiefly letdowns on defense and in rebounding. Flowers brought a bit of support in both areas when he was on the floor, collecting six key boards in his 19 minutes of play.

    But the junior from Waldorf, Md., also added a rare bit of help on the offensive end, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting. One of those field goals came from beyond the arc.

    With Huggins employing several substitutions to get the best possible offensive and defensive lineups on the floor, it hurt his squad down the stretch to not have Flowers to go to on defense.

    That served as a reminder that, even as talented as the Mountaineers are, they are also perilously thin in terms of quality depth.

    They will almost always need a performance like the one Flowers gave Friday from a reserve if they hope to advance far come March.

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