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The “Backyard Brawl” Rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers is about to come to an end after their 2-year home & home series and it ended with Pitt falling to yet another ranked team as they lost 69-59 to the Mountaineers before a sold-out crowd of 13,670 at the WVU Coliseum.
In the 186th meeting between the two programs in men’s basketball, the teams combined for 49 total fouls—and 50 turnovers—in a contest that was reminiscent of old Big East basketball battles from past decades.
“It was a hard-fought game, a very physical game.” Said Pitt Head Coach Capel “Obviously, it was a very emotional game. At the end of the day, we must minimize our mistakes. And then, we must be able to go get the ball. We must be able to value the ball, and we must be able to get the ball. And I thought those were the things that did us in this afternoon.”
Much like last year’s loss at the Petersen Events Center, the Panthers fought and clawed against the Mountaineers, but their mistakes became their undoing. Pitt committed 24 turnovers and were 6-23 from the 3-point line and had 3 technical fouls (Including HC Jeff Capel) that proved too costly for them. We knew that this was a young team that will experience growing pains, and this game was a perfect example of going through that process.
But it was truly a physical game in which Pitt actually led 15-12 early in the game and mounted a comeback late in the second half, truly fitting of the rivalry, but West Virginia’s size and the presence of junior forward Sagaba Konate, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks off the bench, allowed the Mountaineers (6-3) to take control late in the first half. WVU built its lead to as many as 17 early in the second period.
“We have to play hard like that. We have to play hard like that, and we have to rebound.” West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins said “That’s been the M.O. Since I got here-we must get more shots than our opposition. When we get more shots than our opposition, we have a great chance to win.”
When asked about Konate who wasn’t supposed to play, Huggins replied “I tricked you, didn’t I? He was going to play. At the time I said that, I said that to (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s) Ron Cook, and at the time, he wasn’t going to play. What’s today? Wednesday? Saturday. He practiced Friday”
West Virginia’s defense and pressure on Pitt really made the difference as well as they had a game-high 41 rebounds, led by Lamont West’s 9. Pitt freshman Xavier Johnson and grad- transfer Malik Ellison each led their team with 6. As a team they had 33.
We don’t have a double-digit rebounder on the team right now” – Said Capel. “We have to gang rebound, all 5 guys. What it is, it’s changing habits. The young guys don’t have the habits yet &
the returning guys don’t have them because it’s not something they did last year. They weren’t a good rebounding team last season.”
But Pitt, aided by its stand-out freshmen guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, kept fighting. “We’re a young backcourt, we’re an inexperienced backcourt, but I’ll tell you what: I wouldn’t trade them for anyone, those two guys.” Said Capel. “Our guys compete, they fight, they battle and they’re going to get better and better.”
The Panthers (7-3) pulled within eight points twice in the second half but couldn’t get any closer. Johnson finished with a game-high 21 points, while McGowens tallied a career-high 18 points. Au’Diese Toney also added six as freshmen combined to score 45 of Pitt’s 59 points in the game.
“They pressed us a lot and we turned the ball over, and the referees called a lot of fouls that we didn’t agree with.” Said Johnson who also left the game for what appeared to be an injury but returned to finish the game.
Pitt fell to 88-98 all-time against West Virginia. “I don’t know what the contract is, but sure” Capel on if he’d like to see the current contract for the Backyard Brawl continue. “Honestly, I think it’s going to take a while before West Virginia and Pitt becomes what it was.” Said Huggins. “There’s been a long time between games. I think it’s still a rivalry because it’s close enough for both fans to get to either place, but it’s not what it was.”
The Panthers have lost three of their last four games. The Panthers are off until next Saturday, when they open a five-game homestand against Maryland Eastern Shore at the Petersen Events Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Then they host New Orleans and Colgate before starting ACC play at home against Cam Johnson and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, The Mountaineers looked very much like the ”Press Virginia” version of years past. That skill will come in handy for West Virginia with Rhode Island and NCAA Tournament mainstay Lehigh left on their non-conference schedule.
“The play really hard. Said Huggins. “And Jeff Capel runs really good stuff. They’re young; he’s playing a lot of young guys. I think he does a great job of playing to their strengths.”
“I am proud of how we fought and how we competed.” Said Capel. “I felt we put ourselves in the position where we had opportunities. We have to be able to capitalize on those a little bit more.”
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