West Virginia (17-10, 7-7 Big East) snapped a four game losing streak to Pitt (15-12, 4-10 Big East) on Thursday night from the Petersen Events Center, handling the Panthers in the second half in a 66-48 win.
“It means a lot,” said Mountaineer senior Kevin Jones. “We haven’t won here in this building and Truck and I are seniors – it’s good to get these freshmen in here with a first time experience and a win.”
The win was critical for West Virginia’s NCAA tournament chances and served as a blow to Pitt’s already slim hopes of making the field as well.
“We’re trying to get in the NCAA tournament,” said Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins. “We know we need to win games – we’ve done what we’re supposed to in terms of schedule. Our strength of schedule is very good and we’ve got to win some games – we fully realize that.”
((Below is a video recap of the game))
The Mountaineers coming into Thursday had lost five of their last six games – the most recent two coming from inside the Coliseum in Morgantown. One of those previous losses, meanwhile, had come at the hands of Pitt, 72-66.
“We’ve got to keep on progressing,” Jones said. “We played hard this whole game and we just have to realize that when we play hard, we’re a very tough team to beat and we can beat anybody in the country – we have to keep on playing that way.”
There was a different attitude to West Virginia’s play on Thursday – more intensity and more aggression.
“From beginning to end, I feel like this is the first time the whole year we’ve played a full 40 minute game,” Jones said. “We made mistakes and stuff like that but everybody played hard for the most part and everybody played together. This was a good team win.”
On Thursday, neither team could take control of the game early on in the opening stanza as the two traded the lead four times. Turnovers also were a factor, plaguing both teams as they combined for 17 in the first half – they also struggled from beyond the arc as well, combining to hit just 3 of 14 three’s.
Meanwhile, after struggling to shoot the ball over the last couple of games, Mountaineer guard Truck Bryant was noticeably not in the starting lineup – it was the first time he didn’t start for West Virginia since November 27th of 2010 against VMI.
Bryant said head coach Bob Huggins told him of the move during shoot-around earlier in the day.
“That was coach’s decision and there’s nothing I could do about that,” Bryant said. “I just go off what he says and as long as we get the win, I don’t care – I have no worries.”
Bryant entered the game at the 14:24 mark of the first half and went 3 of 5 from the floor, putting up seven points in the opening stanza. He finished the game with 15 points on 4 of 11 shooting overall in 32 minutes.
“We had been playing him too many minutes,” Huggins said. “Even now, when I get him in, I have a hard time taking him out.”
Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones both combined for 17 points in the first half for West Virginia as the Mountaineers led at the break 26-25.
West Virginia gained some momentum starting off the second half and eventually crept out to an 11-point, 47-36 lead with 8:34 to go following a Kilicli dunk and plus-one. A couple of other fast break opportunities helped West Virginia build that lead out to 52-36 with 6:52 left in the half. With the Panthers going cold from the floor, West Virginia was able to eventually close out the pivotal road win down the stretch.
Jones finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Mountaineers – it was his 18th double-double on the year. Kilicli, meanwhile, finished with 14 points and freshman Gary Browne added 12 points.
In the first matchup between the two teams, Pitt’s Tray Woodall finished with 24 points – he had just half of that output on Thursday while guard Ashton Gibbs went just 2 of 11 from the floor, scoring eight points.
“We finally took things away and made them do things that they didn’t want to do,” Bryant said. “I think we did a great job as a team and had a great team effort.”
Overall Pitt shot just 37 percent, going only 7 of 24 in the second half. That, along with West Virginia’s play in the second half took the 12,500-plus inside the Petersen Events Center out of the game.
“This is one of the toughest environments in the Big East and this is definitely a good feeling,” Bryant said. “This definitely gives us confidence to let us know that we’re back. Coming off of a losing streak, most importantly, this is just a big win for us.”
Thursday’s win for West Virginia was just the school’s second all-time inside the Petersen Events Center – the previous win came back in 2005.
“The game is over with,” Jones said. “We can celebrate it for right now, but we’ve got a long wait ahead of us until we play Notre Dame. So, we’re going to enjoy these days ahead of us and get some rest and get back to work – we have practice on Sunday.”
Up next for West Virginia will be a Wednesday matchup at Notre Dame.