Pitt falls to West Virginia in what could be last Backyard Brawl
For now, West Virginia will have the last laugh.
In what could be the final game of the 108-year-old Backyard Brawl, Pitt fell to rival West Virginia, 66-48, on Thursday night in front of a raucous, sold-out Petersen Events Center.
The game featured much of the drama and intensity seen in the rivals' previous 183 meetings. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the crowd at the Pete was as loud as he's heard in the 10-year-old building.
But West Virginia (17-10, 7-7 Big East) outscored Pitt, 40-23, in the second half, highlighted by a 12-0 run midway, on the way to its most lopsided victory over the Panthers in Pittsburgh in 45 years.
"Obviously, the game got away from us in the second half," Dixon said. "We're disappointed in how we played. There's not a lot more we can say. We didn't play well. They deserved it. West Virginia outplayed us."
It was Pitt's sixth home loss of the season; the Panthers had lost only 12 games at the Pete in the previous nine seasons.
Pitt (15-12, 4-10), which had beaten West Virginia on Jan. 30 in Morgantown, lost its third game in a row, The program's 10-year streak of reaching the NCAA Tournament will now be settled next month at Madison Square Garden, where the Panthers will attempt to land an automatic bid by winning the Big East Tournament.
"It continues to be a challenge for us right now," Dixon said.
West Virginia, which had lost five of its past six games, got a much-needed win to stay on the right side of the March Madness bubble. The eighth-place Mountaineers play on Wednesday at second-place Notre Dame.
"We helped them in Morgantown," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "When you throw the ball to them for layups, that helps. That kind of pads the points in the paint. We didn't rebound the ball. We didn't get to loose balls. They beat us to every loose ball in Morgantown."
It marked Pitt's first loss to the Big 12-bound Mountaineers at the Pete since 2005 and assured the Panthers, who host South Florida on Sunday for Senior Night, of a losing record in the Big East for the first time since 2000-01.
West Virginia led, 26-25, at halftime and outscored Pitt, 12-6, to open the second half, taking a 38-31 lead on Jabarie Hinds' basket.
After Pitt trimmed the deficit to 40-36 on Tray Woodall's three-point play, West Virginia answered with a 12-0 surge to take control of the game, 52-36, with less than seven minutes to play. Pitt never threatened again, suffering its worst home loss to WVU since a 102-78 defeat in January 1967.
"It felt like we were in good position," Dixon said. "We came out in the second half, and I think impatience ... really hurt us. We didn't play very well, and I don't need to tell you guys that."
Pitt turned the ball over 17 times and was outrebounded, 33-26.
Kevin Jones had 16 points and 13 rebounds to lead four WVU players in double figures. Truck Bryant added 15 and four steals, Deniz Kilicli 14 points and Gray Browne 12.
Woodall, who scored 24 points in Pitt's win in Morgantown on Jan. 30, led Pitt with 12 points on 5 of 16 shooting. He added eight assists but committed a team-high four turnovers. Ashton Gibbs scored eight points on 2 of 11 shooting. Gibbs and Woodall were a combined 0 for 9 from 3-point range. As a team, Pitt was 3 for 16 from behind the arc.
"We got a bunch of good looks," said Woodall, who is 2 for 15 from 3-point range in the past three games. "We just didn't knock them down. We got a lot of open looks that we normally knock down, and tonight we didn't for whatever reason."
The fire remains between the bitter foes. With 2:31 left in the game and West Virginia up by 12, players from both teams were still diving on the floor going after loose balls.
But West Virginia got the best of it. WVU, which went 4 for 19 from 3-point range in the 72-66 loss to Pitt on Jan. 30, shot 2 for 11 from behind the arc in the rematch. But the Mountaineers used the inside scoring of Kilicli and points fueled by Pitt's turnovers.
Pitt made two baskets in the first six minutes and trailed, 9-4, behind the Kilicli-led Mountaineers. The 6-foot-9 bearded Turk scored seven early points, highlighted by an off-balance, sweeping, left-handed hook shot in the opening minutes.
Pitt switched to a more effective zone defense and took its first lead of the game, 21-20, on a pair of Gibbs free throws with 4:06 to play in the first half.
The Panthers had nearly as many turnovers (nine) as field goals (10) in the opening 20 minutes.
Pitt has continued to regress since its four-game winning streak.
"We had played better as this year has progressed, but we didn't do it tonight," Dixon said. "We've got to get that changed."