Pitt sweeps West Virginia in Backyard Brawl
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Pitt went into the locker room at halftime Thursday leading West Virginia in almost every category but the one that counts.
The Panthers had more field goals, more rebounds, more 3-pointers and ... fewer points. So, No. 4 Pitt came out after halftime and left nothing to chance.
The Panthers made six of their first seven shots of the second half — and shot 65 percent after halftime — to pull away from West Virginia, 71-58, in front of an overflow crowd of 12,876 at Petersen Events Center.
"There wasn't a panic at halftime," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had foul trouble. We had some things going against us. We got off to a slow start, but we responded. I felt pretty good going into the second half."
Trailing, 31-30, at the break, Pitt (25-3, 13-2 Big East) got baskets from five players in the opening 5:30 of the second half to build a double-digit lead on the way to the season sweep in basketball's version of the Backyard Brawl. Pitt led by as many as 17 points in the second half.
"They are good," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "There is a reason why they are 25-3. Who's coming in here and winning?"
Pitt moved closer to its first Big East regular-season title since 2003-04 — it is two games ahead of Notre Dame with three to play — and strengthened its already formidable case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt also clinched a top-four seed — and the double-bye — in the Big East Tournament.
It was Pitt's second victory against West Virginia (17-10, 8-7) in 17 days, and it secured a sweep of its bitter rival for the fifth time in the past 10 seasons. West Virginia, trying to add a signature win to its NCAA Tournament resume, shot 26 percent in the second half. For the game, Kevin Jones was 4 for 13, Truck Bryant was 2 for 10 and John Flowers was 0 for 4.
"We're not going to beat anybody scoring 58 points," Huggins said.
Pitt, rebounding from a last-second heartbreaker at St. John's, won for the 38th time in its past 49 games after a loss under Dixon. It was Dixon's fifth win over West Virginia in 10 tries, giving him as many wins against the Mountaineers as Pitt's previous six coaches combined.
Pitt's leading scorer, Ashton Gibbs, who had averaged 25 points in his previous three games, didn't make his first basket until nearly four minutes into the second half. But the Panthers, playing without redshirt freshman forward Talib Zanna (broken right thumb), got the balanced scoring they lacked against St. John's by putting four players in double figures.
Nasir Robinson led Pitt with 15 points. Brad Wanamaker had 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Gilbert Brown scored all 11 of his points in the first half, and Lamar Patterson, a redshirt freshman, set career highs with 11 points, five assists, two blocked shots and 22 minutes played.
"It felt real good," he said. "At practice, I've been playing pretty good. It felt good to go out on the court and finally put something together."
Casey Mitchell came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points for West Virginia. Deniz Kilicli, the lone bright spot of West Virginia's 71-66 loss to Pitt on Feb. 7, finished with two points in 12 minutes before fouling out with less than five minutes to play.
Pitt also played strong defense after halftime, limiting West Virginia to five field goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
"We adjusted at halftime," Wanamaker said. "We were letting them play a little too physical with us, and we weren't responding. In the second half, we settled down and adjusted to their defense."
The first half was full of runs. West Virginia had surges of 7-0 and 8-0, and Pitt put together streaks of 11-2 and 10-2. When the horn sounded to end the half, West Virginia led by a point, thanks to a buzzer-beating tip-in by Cam Thoroughman.
Pitt held the Mountaineers to 39 percent shooting in the first half and led in rebounding and 3-pointers but still trailed.
Notes: Dixon earned his 213th victory, which ties him with N.C. State's Everett Case (1947-54) and Kansas' Roy Williams (1989-96) for the Division I record for wins in a coach's first eight seasons. ... The crowd was the fifth-largest all-time at the Pete.
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