Men’s Basketball: Pitt uses late comeback, three overtimes to upset No. 4 West Virginia

By Greg Trietley

With 35 seconds to play, Pitt trailed the Mountaineers by five.

A shot, a steal, a… With 35 seconds to play, Pitt trailed the Mountaineers by five.

A shot, a steal, a 3-pointer and three overtimes later, the school and its fans emerged with a defining win of the Jamie Dixon era, as the No. 25 Panthers knocked off No. 5 West Virginia 98-95 in an instant classic.

“The greatest comeback since I’ve been at Pitt,” Pitt junior guard Gilbert Brown said. “This goes down as one of the greatest Pitt victories against West Virginia.”

After Travon Woodall nailed a jumper to close the deficit to 68-65 with 31 seconds left, Nasir Robinson stole the ball from West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant off the inbound and relayed it to an open Ashton Gibbs, who knocked down the game-tying shot.

“Everybody in the gym knew who they wanted to shoot it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “And we let him shoot it.”

Gibbs finished with 24 points.

Pitt (19-6, 8-4 Big East) trailed for almost the entirety of regulation, as West Virginia dominated the boards and stifled the Panthers offensively. West Virginia out-rebounded Pitt 43-29 through the first 40 minutes.

By the end of the game, though, Pitt had closed the gap to 51-44.

“Late in the game we started rebounding,” Brad Wanamaker said. “Once we started rebounding, we started getting back in control of the game.”

Gary McGhee pulled down seven boards in the overtimes, finishing with 12.

“Gary’s presence alone, game in and game out, is really big for us,” Wanamaker said. “He played really big tonight.”

Even 5-foot-11 Travon Woodall grabbed seven rebounds in the contest.

“It’s not the size of the player. It’s the size of the heart,” Woodall said.

Woodall had a chance to end the game after the second overtime, but his basket fell just after time expired.

“I thought too long,” he said. “Thank God it went in—but it didn’t count.”

The redshirt freshman finished with 12 points.

“He’s been a key,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He was big for us in so many ways… Tonight he played like a veteran.”

Pitt wasn’t the only team to make a comeback in the game. West Virginia’s Bryant sank a game-tying 3-pointer with one second left in the first overtime to knot the score at 78. Bryant finished with 20 points.

Da’Sean Butler had 32 points for the Mountaineers, who dropped in 8-4 in the Big East and 19-5 overall with the loss. The senior played 49 minutes.

Because of the game’s length— the three overtimes set a new record for the longest Pitt home game—a few Pitt players recorded astoundingly high minutes played as well. Gibbs played 50 minutes, while Wanamaker played 47 before fouling out.

Woodall and Jermaine Dixon also fouled out in the contest. Wanamaker said he stayed confident even with three guards unavailable.

“I had great trust in these guys,” Wanamaker said. “I just kept my faith in them.”

With three key players out, Brown stepped up, Jamie Dixon said.

“He struggled early on,” Dixon said. “We used him for our penetration and create some stuff for some other [players]. He came up big.”

Brown finished with 16 points, while Wanamaker had 24. The two had zero points in Pitt’s 70-51 loss to West Virginia nine days ago.

“Gilbert and Brad combined for 40 points, which is exactly 40 more than they scored the last time we played,” Dixon said. “Call that coaching.”

West Virginia lost its lead late in regulation when it struggled to convert from the free throw stripe. Butler missed the front-end of two 1-and-1s in the final minute.

“I got an 80 percent free throw shooter [in Butler] who looked like he never shot one before,” Huggins said.

The wild last minute harked back to Pitt’s overtime victory over Louisville, when the Cardinals, like the Mountaineers, couldn’t convert free throws under pressure. Brown, though, said his team wasn’t thinking about the past.

“The Louisville game wasn’t even on our minds,” he said. “What was really on our minds was at halftime when Coach said, ‘We’re going to win this game.’”

The game preserves Pitt’s perfect home record against the nation’s best programs. The Panthers are now 6-0 all-time at the Petersen Events Center against top 5 teams.

“We played with heart. We played with character,” Dixon said. “I’m very proud of them. I’m proud of our University.”