While Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins was quick to dismiss the thought that the actions of West Virginia students and fans would overshadow the work done by his team, indeed, it was the actions of fans that drew much of the attention Wednesday night.
Already, Huggins had taken to the floor once to admonish the student section -- several members of which had thrown bottles, shirts and other objects in the general direction of an official after a foul call found objectionable.
“It’s stupid,” Huggins said. “They wouldn’t want both teams standing above them firing projectiles at them. You know what I mean?”
But when a scrum briefly seemed to be close to breaking out with 5:14 to go, fans again resumed tossing items towards the playing surface.
On video replay, an object that came from the general direction of the student section clearly hit a Pittsburgh assistant coach, who backed away, stunned, after it happened.
Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said afterwards that the assistant was not harmed, and largely dodged comment on the incident.
In the midst of the madness, referees went to the replay monitor at the scorer’s table to determine what had occurred on the floor. What they saw, in truth, was not much to speak of.
After John Flowers rebounded a Nasir Robinson miss, the Panthers’ Gary McGhee reached around Flowers in an effort to steal the ball. McGhee fouled Flowers in the process, and the players began to lightly shove each other at the end of the play.
A referee quickly ran in to break up any possible fight, but tripped over his own legs in the process. He then took McGhee to the floor, and the Pitt center appeared to grab at Flowers in an attempt to hold himself up.
As bodies fell to the court, teammates of both players rushed in. That escalated the situation, which was quickly defused. But the damage had already been done, as fans had once again begun throwing items in the direction of the floor.
For reasons that were unknown to all parties, Mountaineer forward Devin Ebanks and Pitt’s Robinson were whistled for technical fouls. Those were announced to the WVU Coliseum crowd of 15,419.
“I don’t get to look at (the video replay),” Huggins said. “I don’t know (what happened). Our technical foul was on Devin, I believe. I don’t have any idea what Devin did.”
“I’ll have to look at the film.”
But another, unannounced technical was called on the crowd -- allowing Ashton Gibbs to take to the line for the Panthers for two free throws. He made one. Flowers then went to the charity stripe on the West Virginia end, hitting both of his attempts.
That was just part of a game-deciding 27-8 run that put the Panthers, who had closed within 43-41 on a J.J. Richardson put-back with 12:54 to go, out of reach.
The early part of that spurt was a trio of 3-pointers -- one each from Da’Sean Butler, Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones.
From there, with officials working to restore order after the near-scrum, it was hardly surprising that 10 of WVU’s final 14 points came from the foul line. The Mountaineers made 17 of their 23 attempts from the charity stripe, while Pitt made 17-of-28.
When the teams weren’t busy shooting free throws down the stretch, it was West Virginia’s dominance as rebounders and defenders that made the difference.
Huggins and company outrebounded the visitors 29-16 in the second half, after a relatively even opening 20 minutes.
That, coupled with swarming play from a multitude of zone defenses employed by WVU (as Pitt was held to 20 percent shooting in the second half) made it impossible for the Panthers to keep pace.
“We spend a lot of time doing it,” Huggins said, when asked about his team’s rebounding prowess. “I think to give yourself a chance to win all the time, you’ve got to guard and rebound, because you’re not going to shoot it well all the time.”
If fan behavior and Mountaineer dominance were the stories of the second half, it was the play of Deniz Kilicli that was the headline of the preceding period.
“The Turk” entered his first regular season collegiate game at the 13:59 mark of the first half. He wasted little time in dazzling the Coliseum crowd, scoring six straight points with a variety of stunning moves.
His first shot, a left-handed hook, rolled around the rim and in to give his team a 16-7 lead. After a 3-pointer by Gibbs, Kilicli then turned the trick with his opposite hand, scoring on an even more impressive hook shot.
After a missed jumper by Gibbs, Butler came down-court and failed to convert on his own attempt. But Kilicli was in the right place at the right time, tapping in the ensuing rebound to push the lead to double digits at 20-10.
As impressive as the flurry was, Huggins said it was about what he expected from the true freshman from Istanbul.
“(It was) pretty much what I thought,” he said. “I thought he could score. But he’s got to figure out that he’s got to rebound the ball and he’s got to figure out what we’re doing defensively. The biggest thing is that he’s got to rebound the ball.”
While Pitt would rally back within four points at the intermission, thanks largely to the offense provided by Gibbs and fellow guard Jermaine Dixon (who had eight and nine points at halftime, respectively), it would never get over the hump.
Dixon had only four points in the second half, while Gibbs had only three.
Five players for Pittsburgh (16-6, 6-4) had seven or more points -- but only one other Panther scored (two points for Travon Woodall).
For the Mountaineers (18-3, 7-2), Butler had a game-high 18 points. Ebanks had seven points and 16 rebounds. Kilicli managed nine points and a rebound in only seven minutes of action.