PITTSBURGH — Perhaps no player in West Virginia’s men’s basketball program had ever arrived with the level of expectations that Oscar Tshiebwe did.
The second McDonald’s All-American in Mountaineer history, Tshiebwe was slowed by foul trouble and played only 12 minutes in a season-opening win over Akron.
The 6-foot-9 freshman was far better Friday in his first college road game. Tshiebwe recorded a double-double in the first half and finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds to help the Mountaineers defeat the Panthers 68-53 in front of 11,725 at the Petersen Events Center.
“Last Friday, the only thing holding me down a little bit was foul trouble,” Tshiebwe said. “Coach told me I had to stay away from foul trouble. I came out this week ready to go.
“Coach told me to do what I do best, which is rebound and run the court. At the beginning of the game, I knew if I ran a lot, nobody was going to stop me.”
Leading 36-35 at halftime, West Virginia (2-0) held Pitt to 12 percent shooting in the second half. The Panthers made only 3-of-25 field goals over the final 20 minutes and trailed for the entirety of the second half.
“They got worn down a little,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I don’t know that we did anything conceptually different than what we did in the first half.”
By the time the Panthers (2-2) managed their first field goal of the second half on a Justin Champagnie dunk, they faced a 45-39 deficit with 12:30 to play.
The Mountaineers methodically rattled off the next six points on separate buckets by Derek Culver, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Tshiebwe to build their largest lead of the night to that point with 9:24 remaining.
Pitt got back to within seven, but Matthews Jr. connected on a three-pointer to up the WVU lead to 54-44 with 7:38 remaining.
“Every time they kind of started getting some momentum, Emmitt made a play,” Huggins said.
The Mountaineers led by double figures the rest of the way, with Matthews Jr. scoring on consecutive layups to stretch the lead to 14 points with 4:05 left.
Tshiebwe scored West Virginia’s first six points to help put the Panthers in a 9-3 hole. He needed only 3 minutes to surpass his offensive output against the Zips.
“Just trying to get him to slow down,” Huggins said. “He goes too fast at times. He’s got great hands. He takes a beating physically and it doesn’t bother him. It’s hard to get the ball out of his hands when he gets two hands on it.”
West Virginia went up 19-14 after consecutive threes from reserve Sean McNeil, who finished with 11 points.
With the Panthers down 31-24, Trey McGowens scored six straight points to cut the deficit to one. McGowens’ trey a short time later gave Pitt a one-point lead, before Brandon Knapper scored on a drive to give the Mountaineers the edge at the break.
Tshiebwe picked up where he left off to start the second half, scoring on a dunk off a feed from Jordan McCabe.
“It’s fun watching him go out there and have fun with a smile on his face the whole time,” Matthews said of Tshiebwe. “He’s never down on himself. I’m proud of the young guy.”
Matthews scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half and with 3:51 to play, he and the Panthers each had 11 points after the intermission. The sophomore also added eight boards to help the Mountaineers control the glass, 51-35.
McGowens led Pitt with 13 points, but he also had half of his team’s 10 turnovers.
— Prior to the game, Huggins announced Isaiah Cottrell has signed a national letter of intent for the 2020-21 academic year.
Cottrell, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward from Las Vegas, Nevada, currently attends Huntington Prep. Previously, he attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and averaged 15.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game in 2018-19.
Cottrell is ranked No. 82 overall in the 2020 class by ESPN.
“Isaiah is one of the best high school big men in the country as well as one of the most versatile,” Huggins said. “At 6-foot-10, he is capable of playing at both ends of the floor, giving us the ability to utilize a big or small unit with equal effectiveness. He has strong West Virginia roots, which will enable him to understand the history and culture of this great state.”
Cottrell joins Taj Thweatt, a 6-foot-7 forward from Wildwood, New Jersey, and Kedrian Johnson, a 6-foot-3 guard from Dallas, Texas, as the Mountaineers’ three early signees for next season.
— With the win, the Mountaineers earned their first road victory since Feb. 20, 2018, at Baylor. West Virginia finished 0-10 last season in road games.
— West Virginia has now beaten Pitt in four straight meetings for the first time since Huggins was playing for the Mountaineers in 1977.
— Culver, who had 16 points and seven rebounds against Akron, finished with only four points and three rebounds against Pitt. He was plagued by four fouls in 19 minutes.
“Derek didn’t play nearly as well as he had been, so Oscar had to carry the load,” Huggins said. “He got in foul trouble early, and it’s hard when you sit over there — especially when you’re used to playing.”