WVU Takes Down Pitt
It had been more than 21 months since the Mountaineer men’s basketball team won a true road game, but West Virginia broke that dubious run on its rival’s home court, pulling away for a 68-53 victory over Pitt at the Petersen Events Center.
The win moved WVU’s record to 2-0 on the young season, while the Panthers are now 2-2.
“I didn’t know what to tell them (in the locker room), so I just said, ‘two down, 40 to go,’” chuckled WVU’s veteran coach Bob Huggins during his MSN postgame show.
West Virginia came out of the blocks strongly, opening up a 6-0 lead, but Pitt fought back to earn a 10-9 advantage of its own.
A trio of Sean McNeil threes, and then some dominating work by WVU’s freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, moved West Virginia back in front by seven midway through the first half. The Panthers closed the first half with a flurry, though, and the Mountaineers held a slim 36-35 lead as they went into the locker room at halftime.
Tshiebwe already had a double-double by the midway juncture with 12 points and 12 rebounds through the first 20 minutes.
The second half belonged entirely to WVU, though, mainly because Pitt could not get shots to go through the rim.
Call it great Mountaineer defense or poor Panther offense, but whatever the reason, Pitt made just two of its first 22 shots from the floor in the first 16 minutes of the second half. West Virginia struggled at times offensive in the second half itself, but it did enough against the ice-cold Panther offense to forge a 62-46 lead over the home club with 3:40 remaining.
The Mountaineers weren’t challenged from there and left The Pete with a 15-point win.
In total, Pitt made only 3 of 25 shots from the floor in the second half and 16 of 53 for the game, while WVU converted 11 of 29 field goals in the second half, and 23 of 60 for the game.
West Virginia also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Panthers 51-35.
Tshiebwe had a bulk of those boards, as the freshman pulled down 17 to go along with 20 points. He’s the first Mountaineer to go for at least 20 and 17 in a regulation game since Calvin Bowman posted exactly those numbers against Marshall in 2001.
“Oscar played within himself, did what he could do,” explained Huggins. “He wasn’t running around hunting shots. He wasn’t taking 15- or 17-footers. He did what Oscar does better than most, which rebound the ball, be active defensively and then slow down offensively and do what you do. I told him during one time out, ‘just slow down.’ His free throws were like someone was running at him with a knife. Just slow down. He slowed down, and I don’t think he missed a free throw after that.”
Tshiebwe made 6 of 9 foul shots for the game, and all four of his attempts in the second half. As a team, WVU was 14-of-19 from the foul line, including a perfect 8-8 in the second half. Conversely, Pitt made just 19 of 31 free throws.
Emmitt Matthews added 17 points and eight rebounds to West Virginia’s effort, while McNeil finished with 11.
“I think Emmitt Matthews was really key for us,” said Huggins of the sophomore forward. “Each time Pitt got some momentum, he hit a big shot or made a big play.”
Trey McGowens led Pitt with 13 points, but he had only one in the second half. During much of those final 20 minutes, West Virginia senior swingman Jermaine Haley locked down McGowens defensively.
“I thought he was really, really good,” explained Huggins of Haley’s performance, which included just four points but also seven rebounds ,two assists and one steal. “Not only did he do a good job defensively, but he rebounded the ball for us, handled the ball for us, passed it well. He doesn’t force things, so he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. I don’t know where he plays for us – forward, guard, whatever – but he takes very good care of the ball.”
It was WVU’s first true road victory since a win at Baylor on Feb. 20, 2018.
It also gave the Mountaineers a four-game win streak in the Backyard Brawl, which is their best streak since Huggins was a WVU player in 1976-77. West Virginia now leads the all-time series with its rival from the Steel City, 99-88.
The Mountaineers don’t have much time to enjoy the win over Pitt, as they are back in action Monday night, when they host Northern Colorado (2-1) at the WVU Coliseum. Tipoff is 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.