PITTSBURGH — The free throws that were taken away badly hurt West Virginia. The wide-open shot by Pitt’s Ronald Ramon that won the game bothered Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins a whole lot more.
Ramon barely beat the final horn with a game-winning 3-pointer from the left wing and No. 21 Pittsburgh rallied in the final minute to beat cold-shooting rival West Virginia 55-54 on Thursday night.
‘‘I’d like to say we drew it up that way,’’ Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of a play that was supposed to end with Sam Young taking the final shot. ‘‘But Keith (Benjamin) drove with it and made his man guard him and he found the open man. Ronald made the shot, but Keith made the play.’’
Neither Ramon nor Benjamin knew how much time was left, and Benjamin said, ‘‘I had no choice but to throw it to Ronald. I had no idea what the clock was. I was hoping he could get it off.’’
Ramon did, and the Panthers (18-5 overall, 6-4 Big East) got an important victory that substantially helps their NCAA Tournament hopes and damages those of West Virginia (16-7, 5-5). The Mountaineers led 53-50 with a minute to play but couldn’t find a way to finish it, mostly because of terrible foul shooting.
Alex Ruoff, an 85 percent free-throw shooter, missed 1 of 2 with 9 seconds remaining to prevent West Virginia from taking a three-point lead. That miss — the Mountaineers were only 7 of 17 from the line — proved costly because it meant Ramon’s 3 won the game, rather than tying it and sending it to overtime.
Young and Benjamin scored 10 each for Pitt, which beat the Mountaineers for the fourth time in a row and the 10th time in 13 games. DeJuan Blair had 12 rebounds, but was limited to seven points on 3 of 13 shooting.
Darris Nichols scored 16 and Joe Mazzulla had 15 for West Virginia, which lost its third in four games.
‘‘We’re supposed to be a good-shooting team, that’s what they tell me,’’ said Huggins, who is playing with former coach John Beilein’s recruits. ‘‘It’s consistent (the poor shooting). It’s a pattern.’’
The Mountaineers lost to Georgetown 58-57 on Jan. 26 when they were 12 of 23 from the line. This time, Joe Alexander and Da’Sean Butler each missed two key free throws apiece down the stretch.
When the Mountaineers finally made two free throws, by Alexander with slightly more than 4 minutes remaining, they were wiped off — the officials reviewed the game tape and decided Cam Thoroughman should have been on the line instead. He went to the line and missed the front end of the 1-and-1.
The erased points restored Pitt’s 48-45 lead, and Brad Wanamaker scored on a drive to the basket the next time to give the Panthers a five-point lead, although West Virginia rallied to score the next eight points.
‘‘I’ve never been involved in anything like that,’’ Huggins said.
Of the final play, Huggins said, ‘‘He (Ramon) made a big shot. We said we can’t let him beat us or Sam Young beat us. ... But the reality is we’re relying on people we shouldn’t be relying on.’’
Dixon and his staff screamed repeatedly at officials that the wrong shooter was at the line. Because a timeout was called immediately after Alexander shot, the officials could review the tape. If play hadn’t stopped, the mistake wouldn’t have been correctable.
Dixon became impatient with repeated questions about the mistake, saying, ‘‘Too much is being made of it. The right call was made. What I don’t know is why it took that long. We said all along it was the wrong shooter.’’
There were no right shooters for the Mountaineers on a night in which they shot a combined 37 percent (27 of 70) from the field and the foul line.
Huggins — apparently unhappy with a defensive breakdown that led to Wanamaker’s basket — screamed at Alexander for most of a 60-second timeout, then pulled his leading scorer for the next 3 minutes. Huggins’ tirade must have had a positive effect as the Mountaineers scored the next eight points to retake the lead at 53-50 on Nichols’ bank shot 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:22 remaining.
Alexander, also pulled by Huggins in the first half when the two had an apparent disagreement over defensive responsibilities, was held to five points on 2 of 11 shooting, or nine points below his average.
West Virginia, which has lost seven of eight in Pittsburgh, took an early 13-9 lead but Pitt responded with a 10-0 run that was finished off by Blair’s midcourt steal and jam. In a game featuring frequent lead changes and ever-shifting momentum, West Virginia came back with a 7-0 run and led 27-26 at halftime.
The pattern held in the second half. West Virginia scored eight of the first 10 points to make it 35-28, but Pitt scored the next eight to regain the lead at 36-35.
Maybe West Virginia’s all-gold uniforms were the bad omen. The Mountaineers football team wore the same color scheme during its stunning 13-9 loss to Pitt on Dec. 1 that ended West Virginia’s national title hopes. Numerous Pitt students held up signs reading ‘‘13-9.’’