WVU Holds Off Pitt
MORGANTOWN — When you have played an opponent as many times as West Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh have over the years – No. 186 was on Saturday – one wonders if the “Backyard Brawl” has the same meaning it had when the two programs first met during the 1903-04 campaign.
“I grew up watching this game,” junior guard Chase Harler said following the Mountaineers’ 69-59 victory. “As a West Virginian, it means a lot to us. I guess it means a lot to our out of state players, but it’s not the same for them because many of them did not grow up watching this rivalry.”
WVU, which improved to 6-3 on the season, received a team-high 18 points from James ‘Beetle’ Bolden, 16 from junior Sagaba Konate, who broke the school blocked shot record in the game, and 13 from senior Esa Ahmad to post its 10-point victory over the Panthers, who dropped to 7-3 on the season.
“We take this game seriously every year,” Konate said, who was one rebound shy of posting a double-double. “It’s like old time. Now, we just need to move forward and keep improving.”
On a day when he wasn’t even supposed to play, Konate proved to be the difference as the 6-foot-8 post player was dominant on both ends of the floor.
“Obviously, it was a very emotional game,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said. “But, he (Konate) was a force we simply had no answers for. Even when he wasn’t blocking shots, he was affecting them. We attacked him as much as we felt comfortable of doing, but he made us pay when we made the mistake of challenging him too often.”
The victory allows the Mountaineers to head into the next eight days with some momentum as they take a break from the court for final exams.
“We still have to find answers,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
“There at the end we just weren’t strong with the ball. We have to find someone who can handle pressure situations with the ball in their hands.
“We did some nice things early in the game, but when it came down to those finals minutes, we just didn’t play very smart.”
Pitt was paced in scoring by a game-high 21 points from Xavier Johnson and 18 from Trey McGowens. No other Panther, however, tallied more than six while shooting under 32 percent for the game.
“We are trying to get back to our press,” said Harler, who finished with four points and one steal. “Now that we are seeing it work, it helps.”
Making his second career start was Cameron graduate Logan Routt, who added four points, five rebounds and one blocked shot to the Mountaineers’ total.
“I know that it means a lot to me (beating Pitt),” said Routt. “It was a must win for us. It (running on the carpet against the Panthers) has always been a dream of mine and to get the win makes it even better.”
The Mountaineers finished the first half on a 15-10 run. Bolden led the way with 11 points while Ahmad added seven and Konate six. Pitt was paced by 11 points apiece from Johnson and McGowens.
West Virginia also forced 14 Panthers turnovers.