PLAYER OF THE GAME:
This award is given to the senior guard largely by default. Much like West Virginia’s last game on the road, a 63-52 loss at Syracuse on Valentine’s Day, Mitchell’s scoring was the only thing that kept the Mountaineers from being blown out of the building.
The Savannah, Ga., native scored a game-high 22 points, making four 3-pointers and all eight of his free throws in the process.
And much like WVU’s loss to the Orange, Mitchell had little help in terms of scoring. He was the only player on his team in double figures.
But it wasn’t as though Mitchell played a perfect game. He turned the ball over three times and put his teammates in bad positions on other occasions with poor passes. His defense wasn’t much better.
But if someone had to receive this award, Mitchell would be that player. Without him this night at the Petersen Events Center, it would have been an even longer night than it was.
They were the story of Pitt’s win over WVU in the first edition of the Backyard Brawl at the Coliseum. After another dominant second half, they were the story of the Panthers’ season sweep of their rival.
The hosts shot 65.2 percent from the field in the second half and 57.4 percent overall. They had 34 points in the paint after scoring 46 points in the same area in a 71-66 win over the Mountaineers on Feb. 7.
And unlike their opponents, the Panthers found a way to allow several of their players to get in on the act. Five Pitt players had nine or more points, and none had more than Nasir Robinson, who had 15.
They did all of that in a different way than they had in the latter stages of their win at the Coliseum. Unlike that occasion, where second-chance points played a significant role in the outcome, West Virginia actually tallied more points in that area (11-8) than its opponent.
The fact that Pitt could find a different way to achieve the same result -- easy baskets -- speaks to the Panthers’ collective skill on offense, a multi-faceted arsenal that includes a great mix of post play, slashing guards and perimeter sharpshooters.
Don’t let the shooting percentages or the points in the paint numbers fool you. Not everything Pitt scored in its game-changing second half run was easy.
Time and time again, Panthers players scored with hands in their face, bodies in their way. They made off-balance shots. They made long jump shots. They scored on tough put-backs. They scored while absorbing contact.
The aforementioned Robinson looked like a human pretzel at times, bending his body at improbable angles while in midair while somehow still keeping enough control to lay the ball in the basket.
Ditto for teammate Brad Wanamaker, who didn’t have a great shooting night but fought through that to tally 11 points (five of which came at the free throw line) and game-highs in assists (eight) and rebounds (seven).
Rivalry aside, Bob Huggins must admire Pitt in some ways. Jamie Dixon’s team is scrappy and just finds ways to beat teams, often by brute force, much in the way Huggins’ best teams have done through the years.
Answering the bell.
Championship teams are normally the ones who are able to handle adversity best; those that respond in tough moments by making plays.
There were two occasions when Pitt looked like it might be in for a tough fight Thursday.
The first occasion was in the opening moments, when WVU raced out to a 7-0 lead and forced Jamie Dixon to call timeout. The second was just as the first half ended, when Cam Thoroughman scored on a put-back at the buzzer to give the Mountaineers a 31-30 lead and, seemingly, a bit of momentum.
Both times, the Panthers responded more than adequately. They ripped off an 11-2 run after West Virginia took that early 7-0 lead. They started the second half, just after Thoroughman’s basket, on a 17-5 spurt.
The first run ensured the visitors didn’t run away with things. The second served as a haymaker, the punch WVU simply couldn’t respond to.
That’s a significant reason why Pitt is likely on its way to a Big East Conference regular season title, while the Mountaineers are scrapping to stay in the top eight of the league standings and avoid having to play in the first round of the upcoming conference tournament.