Pitt survives WVU in Morgantown
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Pitt coach Jamie Dixon stressed to his players that nobody needed to replace injured star Ashton Gibbs.
No one needed to become a 3-point sharpshooter or All-Big East point guard against West Virginia on Monday night.
Just play like you do when Gibbs isn't in the game — for a few more minutes this time.
That mindset worked, as No. 4 Pitt topped No. 25 West Virginia, 71-66, at WVU Coliseum, passing arguably its toughest task so far this season.
Gibbs, one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation, watched from the bench in a T-shirt and sweatpants with a strained MCL in his left knee.
Still, Pitt found a way to get it done in the 181st edition of the Backyard Brawl.
"We really got the message across to our guys in the last 24 hours," Dixon said. "We didn't have to have anybody step up. No one had to become a different player overnight."
Pitt (22-2, 10-1) trailed by eight points early and shot 29 percent from the field in the first half, but the Panthers shot 60 percent in the second half to pull out a victory in a rivalry dating to 1904.
"They outmanned us," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "They beat us to death on the offensive glass (18 to 8) and drove it where they wanted to drive it."
Nasir Robinson led Pitt with 15 points and eight rebounds. Gary McGhee (13 points), Gibbs' replacement; Travon Woodall (12); and Brad Wanamaker (11) also scored in double figures for Pitt.
Dante Taylor (knee), who returned after missing Saturday's Cincinnati game, had five points and six rebounds.
Woodall finished with three assists and one turnover in a career-high 36 minutes.
"I tried to play solid and take what the defense gives me," said Woodall, who hit a key 3-pointer — Pitt's only 3-pointer — with 7:13 to play in the second half to give Pitt a 54-48 lead. "I can play better, but we came out with the win."
The Panthers improved to 5-0 on the road this season; they are one of three NCAA Division I teams without a road loss (Ohio State and Kansas).
West Virginia's Denis Kilicli scored a career-high 19 points on 9 of 13 shooting, but the rest of the Mountaineers were a combined 14 of 39 (36 percent) from the field.
"What I like about it was how we did it," Dixon said. "We really focused on the rebounding and defense."
There was none of the unruly fan behavior that marred last season's game in Morgantown and little of the breathtaking drama that marked Pitt's triple-overtime classic in the rematch two weeks later.
But it was a sweet win for the Panthers, who led for most of the second half, and responded every time West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) got to within striking distance.
With Pitt ahead, 63-60, Gilbert Brown converted a 3-point play with 1:10 to play to make the score 66-60. The Panthers led by at least five points the rest of the way.
Gibbs, an All-Big East preseason selection averaging 16.3 points, is expected to miss 10-14 days.
In his absence, Woodall, making his first start of the season, and Wanamaker took turns running the point for the Panthers' offense.
"Without him, we just wanted to go out and play our game," Wanamaker said. "We didn't want to try to fill his shoes. We wanted the guys who step in to play their game."
Pitt took the lead for good, 47-46, on Woodall's 3-pointer with 8:15 to play. West Virginia trimmed the lead to 55-53 on Casey Mitchell's 3-pointer with 5:25 left.
Pitt scored 42 points in the paint against West Virginia, which had allowed 44 points to Seton Hall and 46 to South Florida in its past two road games.
Pitt shot 29 percent in the first half (9 for 31) but still managed to trail only 25-23 at the break, as the Panthers held WVU to 39 percent from the field and two offensive rebounds.
Trailing, 12-4, five minutes into the game, Pitt went on a 12-2 run behind Wanamaker and Robinson to lead 16-14 with 6:45 to play in the first half.
Kilicli was 5 of 6 from the field and scored 10 points in the first half, but the rest of the Mountaineers were a combined 4 for 17.
"I felt I played pretty good defense," McGhee said. "He made some tough shots. I give him credit."