They waited two days for what they hoped would be a comeback of sorts. WVU tried to come back down 10 points early in the second half to Pittsburgh, but it was not to be.
“They just out-toughed us,” said senior forward Kevin Jones. “It’s tough to bear as a competitor. You’re not going to win every game, but that’s your mentality as a competitor.”
The Mountaineers lost 72-66 to the Panthers Monday night in the WVU Coliseum to lose three games in a row for the first time since 2006 and first time in head coach Bob Huggins’ tenure as WVU’s head coach.
“I’ve never lost three games in a row,” said senior guard Truck Bryant. “We have to find a way to get better quick. We have to bring it every night, and we didn’t tonight.”
The Panthers, after starting Big East Conference play 0-7, have now won three straight. The Mountaineers drop to 5-5 in conference play.
“We didn't have swagger today. We didn't come out ready to play. We didn't have any energy - and we were at home,” Bryant said.
Despite Jones’ 21 points and 13 rebounds – his eighth straight 20-point game, the Mountaineers were unable to fight back from being down double-digits.
With 17:40 to play in the game, Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs hit a layup and was fouled. After an extended period before the free throw, Huggins was yelling at Bryant, and an official called a technical foul on Huggins.
After an extended and heated conversation, as Huggins tried to plead his case as some WVU students threw items onto the court, Gibbs hit one of two technical free throws to take the Panthers’ largest lead of the game at 41-31.
Player of the Game
“I’ve gotten a bunch of technical, but I’ve never had one for yelling at a player for not making a rotation,” Huggins said.
From that point, the Mountaineers made a spirited charge back, closing to within two at multiple points, but never found a way to leap back in front after having the advantage for much of the first half.
“Sometimes when we lose I can't even sleep. It's tough, but I think we'll bounce back,” Jones said. “We have to. We have no choice.”
Outside of Jones, Bryant finished with 14 points. Junior forward Deniz Kilicli had 12. Freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds had 10.
The Mountaineers had trouble guarding the Panthers’ speedy guards – as Tray Woodall scored 24 points and Gibbs added 15.
“He played a heck of a game,” Bryant said of Woodall. “He had 16 in the first half, and I think that’s the most he’s had in a game against us – and that was in the first half.”
In total, Pitt shot 46.2 percent. WVU shot just 40.4 percent.
“When you're a young team, you can't just turn it on and off. We're young. We're not that good. We need to turn it on every night,” Bryant said. “Our energy level was low, and we didn’t guard the ball well enough, and they got easy baskets.”
WVU has success offensively in the first 10 minutes, as it shot at or above 50 percent for much of that time.
It allowed the Mountaineers to gain a 17-9 advantage, as five different players got on the board early on.
Hinds scored five of West Virginia’s first seven points, and Bryant got involved by hitting his first 3-pointer attempted to take a 10-5 lead.
WVU’s lead would creep up to eight on a 3-pointer from Aaron Brown at 17-9.
However, the Mountaineers would struggle to score from the field. In fact, WVU couldn’t hit a shot in more than seven minutes, and that allowed Pitt to slowly gain momentum and eventually tie the game at 21 on a layup and free throw from Woodall.
The Panthers would take their first lead of the contest with about 2:40 to play when Woodall hit a 3-pointer to make it 26-23.
The Panthers would score eight of the last 10 points in the half including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Woodall to take a 33-29 lead at the half.
Pitt shot 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. Woodall had 16 of the team’s 33 points. WVU shot 45.5 percent from the field. The Panthers, however, had double the Mountaineers’ points in the paint.
Following the technical on Huggins, the Mountaineers slowly worked their way back, and a baseline jumper by Jones really ignited the crowd of 13,032, as WVU was back within three at 48-45 with more than 10 minutes to play.
The crowd noise forced Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon to call a timeout.
After four quick points for Pitt, Bryant hit his second three of the game to make it a four-point game. After a Gibbs jumper and Jones free throws, Hinds hit a layup after a block from Kilicli to make it 54-52 with 7:49 to play.
WVU had two chances to tie the game on consecutive possessions, but it wasn’t to be, as Pitt eventually took a 58-54 lead.
Then, the Panthers would go on a 7-2 run that made if 63-56 and forced Huggins to call a timeout.
It seemed as if nothing, not even the boisterous crowd that showed up days in advance, would turn the corner for the Mountaineers.
Pitt recorded 10 more points in the paint. WVU had one more rebound than the Panthers.