West Virginia thunders past Pitt with 2nd-half surge
If the Backyard Brawl is supposed to create a hostile environment for the opposing team, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins didn’t see anything like that Friday night at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt was anything but a hostile host in a 68-53 loss to Mountaineers in the 187th renewal of one of college basketball’s oldest rivalries.
With 6-foot-9, 258-pound freshman Oscar Tshiebwe scoring 20 points with 17 rebounds and three blocks, West Virginia (2-0) owned the boards with a 51-35 rebounding edge and, incredibly, held Pitt (2-2) to three field goals after halftime.
Pitt coach Jeff Capel called Pitt’s second-half shooting effort (3 for 25) “as bad as I’ve seen, as bad as I’ve been a part of.”
After courageously slugging it out with the bigger, stronger Mountaineers in the first half and going to the locker room only down, 36-35, Pitt lost the game soon after the start of the second half.
“In the second half,” Capel said, “we got four shots at the basket early and got nothing out of it. “We didn’t finish strong. We didn’t play through contact and I thought that gave them even more confidence to be even more physical and to become even more dominant.”
Capel said there wasn’t enough of an effort to play together when adversity struck.
“Guys know we’re struggling and we have some guys who say `I have to do it, instead of we have to do it.’ ” Capel said. “We have to continue to grow in that aspect of the game. We have to understand basketball is a we sport.”
Huggins said he thought Pitt’s two sophomore guards, Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, “got worn down a little.”
No, Capel said. “We just didn’t play well.”
McGowens led Pitt in scoring with 13 points, but only one after halftime when he attempted just one shot from the field. Johnson, who totaled 30 points in the first three games, scored only four.
Worn down or just defended well, it didn’t matter much in the end. West Virginia won the game in the paint where Tshiebwe was dominant. Pitt was faced with a distinct size disadvantage, with four of the Mountaineers’ five starters 6-7 or taller.
Tshiebwe is the toughest of the group.
“What he does is rebound the ball as well as anyone in college basketball,” Huggins said. “He takes a beating physically and it doesn’t bother him. It’s hard to get the ball out of his hands once he gets both hands on it.
“Good players do what they’re good at doing. He got our other guys open shots because he ran and collapsed the defense.”
Huggins said there was nothing hostile about the atmosphere at the Pete, but that was not meant as a knock on the Oakland Zoo or the crowd of 11,725, many of whom were cheering heartily for the Mountaineers.
“I never understood the meaning of hostile,” Huggins said. “I didn’t see anybody with spears and knives and machine guns.
“I just thought it was a whole bunch of people paid some money and came in here and watched a good ball game.”
Friday’s game was the third in a row in the Backyard Brawl series, and Huggins said he would like to see it continue after it was interrupted for five years earlier this decade.
“Why not?” he said.
“The way we travel in our league (the Big 12), it’s refreshing to jump on bus and ride an hour, believe me.
“I don’t know why we don’t play every sport.”
He said neither team needs the other. Good opponents aren’t hard to find.
But he added, “You can’t find meaningful games like this one is for the fan base.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected]web.com or via Twitter .