For the second Backyard Brawl in a matter of weeks, the Panthers simply couldn’t be stopped when it counted most. Pitt scored on eight of its first nine possessions to start the second half, turning what was a one-point deficit into a double-digit lead in short order.
Once that game-changing 17-5 run happened to start the half and give the hosts a 47-36 lead, the Mountaineers would never seriously challenge again. They got back within eight points on a Casey Mitchell 3-pointer, but they would draw no closer.
Pitt (25-3, 13-2) ultimately built a lead of as many as 17 points at 64-47 and cruised to its seventh victory in eight games against WVU at the Petersen Events Center.
“We gave up a bunch of ones we don’t normally give up,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “They beat us in transition in the second half. Our half-court defense wasn’t as good.
“But they are good. That’s the reason why they’re 25-3. They’re good.”
The Panthers looked like it, particularly in the second half, when they shot 65.2 percent from the field. Overall, the hosts hit 57.4 percent of their shots and, as was the case in the teams’ first meeting, dominated inside. Pitt scored 34 points in the paint to WVU’s 16.
Oddly enough, both the Panther players and Huggins blamed the same thing for their respective teams’ struggles in each half of play.
“I think we had a vailiant effort in the first half, but we just weren’t making shots,” said Pitt forward Gilbert Brown, who didn’t have those issues, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and scoring 11 points.
“We missed a couple of layups here and there. We said coming into the second half, we had to make our adjustments, crash the boards and lock down our shots. We responded.”
The Panthers needed to, as WVU jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game. But the hosts immediately answered with an 11-2 run of their own to claim the advantage at 11-9.
From there, a predictably close battle ensued for the remainder of the first half. Neither team had a lead of more than four points in last 14:00 of the period.
The Mountaineers, who had been dominated in the paint in the first meeting between these two teams, played better interior defense and managed to score a few easy baskets of their own -- the last coming on a Cam Thoroughman put-back at the buzzer to give them a 31-30 lead at the intermission.
But Brown and company turned things around offensively after the break, while it was West Virginia that began to struggle to find the basket. It had only five points in the first 8:30 of the second half.
“We can’t keep throwing it [from] two feet [away] and not making the shots,” Huggins said. “We can’t do it. We can’t overcome it. We aren’t going to beat anybody scoring 58 points.”
The Mountaineers (17-10, 8-7) once again were the victims of their own poor shooting. As a team, they were 26.1 percent from the field (6-of-23) in the second half and a paltry 33.3 percent overall.
Of the six WVU players who attempted more than two field goals, only one player, Mitchell, shot 50 percent or better. The senior guard hit five of his 11 attempts from the field on the way to a game-high 22 points.
But no other Mountaineer was even in double figures, and starters Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant combined to shoot 6-of-23 from the field (26.1 percent).
“We just didn’t make any shots,” Huggins said, sounding a bit like a broken record, as the veteran coach has used that explanation in the wake of losses on numerous occasions this season.
Pitt had no such problems.
Nasir Robinson led four Panthers in double figures with 15 points. Brown was joined by Brad Wanamaker and reserve Lamar Patterson with another 11 points each. Wanamaker also added team-highs in assists (eight) and rebounds (seven).
Jones had nine points for West Virginia, but was a paltry 4-of-13 from the field. Joe Mazzulla added another nine points.
The Mountaineers will stay on the road, traveling to Rutgers for a Sunday afternoon game in Piscataway. Tip off is set for noon.