Men’s Basketball: Pitt passes tough road test at WVU

By Alex Oltmanns

With point guard and leading scorer Ashton Gibbs sitting out with an MCL injury for the… With point guard and leading scorer Ashton Gibbs sitting out with an MCL injury for the Panthers’ game at West Virginia on Monday night, many questioned who would step up for the Pitt men’s basketball team.

But for the players and coaches in the Panthers’ locker room, the game was just business as usual — that meant continuing to do what made them successful to this point, playing defense and rebounding.

No. 4 Pitt did just that and walked away from WVU Coliseum with a 71-66 win over No. 25 West Virginia with Gibbs sitting on the sidelines.

“We didn’t have to have anybody step up, we just had to play the way we play, do the things that we do,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in a post-game press conference. “I think we really got that message across and we rebounded and defended and those are the things that we can always do.”

The Panthers (22-2, 10-1 Big East) dominated West Virginia on the boards, holding a 40-28 rebounding edge while not allowing the Mountaineers to get many quality shots.

Yet, even with that strong defense, Mountaineer forward Deniz Kilicli put on an offensive clinic.

He came into the game averaging 6.9 points per game off the bench but showed an array of moves inside along with tough hook shots to lead the Mountaineers (15-8, 6-5 Big East) in scoring with 19 points, a career high.

“We finally threw him the ball,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We should’ve thrown him the ball at the Villanova game and we didn’t. That was an emphasis yesterday, to make sure we throw him the ball when he’s working to get it.”

Even with Kilicli’s impressive offensive output, Dixon and the Panthers didn’t panic because they thought they were doing everything they could defensively, forcing him to take tough shots.

“I thought we defended as well as we could,” Dixon said. “I didn’t get angry with our guys, I said ‘Hey the kid made a tough shot, we guarded it the way we wanted to.’ He made some incredible shots.”

Pitt started off a bit sluggishly — trailing 10-4 — but was able to stay close behind forward Nasir Robinson’s effort, as he scored six of the team’s first eight points on the way to a 15-point performance.

Guard Travon Woodall started in place of Gibbs and finished the game with 12 points, including a key 3-pointer with 6:30 left in the game to put the Panthers ahead, 54-48, right after West Virginia scored, bringing the raucous crowd to its feet.

“He’s played so many minutes and started games so I wasn’t too worried about that,” Dixon said of Woodall’s move to the starting lineup. “I thought he played a little better defense.”

As for Gibbs,  the team will be cautious with his return to the lineup.

“He doesn’t feel pain,” Dixon said. “He still doesn’t think he’s hurt. Our trainers are being very conservative with it.”

Pitt’s seniors Gil Brown, Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee scored nine, 11 and 13 points, respectively, and showed why they’ve been successful throughout the majority of their Pitt careers — scoring when the team needed them to down the stretch.

Leading 59-58 with 3:44 remaining, the Panthers needed a score and Brown was able to drive to the hoop and convert a layup while drawing a foul. Not to be outdone, Wanamaker penetrated the defense and converted a crucial layup of his own to make the score 63-58 with 2:04 left.

Then, on Pitt’s very next possession, Brown got to the hoop yet again to convert a layup while drawing a foul and making the ensuing free throw to put the game out of reach.

“They just out-manned us,” coach Huggins said. “They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it, they just out-manned us.

“They drive it more [with Gibbs being out]. Wanamaker, Brown, drive it. Robinson drives it. They just attack the rim.”

Pitt’s next game is Saturday at Villanova, another tough road test for the Panthers. Regardless of whether they have Gibbs, at least one coach expects that the Panthers won’t be rattled — they’ll just play the way they always do.

Huggins said in a courtside interview, “You never see Pitt get out of character.”