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January 31, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN - Mountaineers couldn’t seize the moment

MORGANTOWN — There was a moment late in what eventually would turn out to be a 72-66 victory by Pitt over West Virginia with 2:08 left to play that will tell you all you need to know about what transpired in this affair.

West Virginia had been chipping away at a Panther lead that had swelled to double figures in the second half, cutting it to 63-59 on a jump shot by Deniz Kilicli and a free throw by Kevin Jones, when Pitt took the ball down court.

They got the ball to Nasir Robinson under the basket but the ball somehow slipped from his fingertips, one of the few mistakes Pitt made after the first 11 minutes of the game, and was dribbling out of bounds when Robinson scrambled across the line and blindly flipped the ball backward.

It bounced between a couple of stunned Mountaineers directly to Dante Taylor, who took the ball and went to the hoop past those same WVU defenders, their feet seemingly riveted to the Coliseum floor as he went up and scored.

Instead of WVU having the ball with a chance to cut the lead to two, Pitt had a lead of six and, in truth, the rest of the game was played simply to determine what the final difference would be.

One of the Mountaineer defenders at the time was Deniz Kilicli.

“Me and somebody else, we did not go get the ball,” Kilicli admitted. “That is the kind of stuff that killed us the whole game.”

Kilicli really didn’t have to say so. Bob Huggins noticed it.

“The ball went out of bounds and they save it back inbounds and we have a guy here and a guy here and they have a guy behind our two guys and he runs in and catches it and shoots a layup and our two guys still have yet to move.”

We will not belittle anything about Pitt’s accomplishment, a team that had lost its first six Big East games, that was nowhere without its point guard Tray Woodall, yet now has fought back to win three straight and did it with the work ethic they displayed in this one.

But it seemed far too often loose balls would simply roll their way.

Call it luck, if you will, but in truth you make your own luck and just as it was on that crucial play at a crucial moment, West Virginia could have done something about it.

They just didn’t do anything about it.

“We don’t converge on the ball,” Huggins said in the post-game analysis. “Yeah, they got some bounces, but we stand around and watch too much. We blocked three shots in the first half and they pick it up and get three-point plays out of it. We just don’t get to the ball.”

It is odd, too, because at the end of the night both teams, it seemed, had sweat an equal amount, yet if you must believe what you see, WVU was outworked in this game. Not all night, but enough of it when it counted that even a rollicking crowd could not compensate.

In the end, the only thing Huggins could say about the game was the obvious.

“They out-toughed us,” he said.

For Huggins to say that has to be as painful as having his appendix removed with a butter knife and a soup spoon.

He accepts anything if it is the result of toughness, nothing from softness, yet that just keeps creeping up on the Mountaineers.

This isn’t about shooting or passing or running an offense or a defense. In truth, this game was a virtual draw statistically. West Virginia had one more 3-point shot made, Pitt one more free throw made. WVU had one more rebound, both teams had 10 turnovers, both teams had four steals.

The difference was that Pitt had 24 baskets, WVU 21 ... and you can find three hustle baskets for Pitt, to say nothing of the damnedest technical foul that has ever been called in the Coliseum.

It went against Huggins, although he can’t quite understand it, it coming to him as he was shouting at guard Truck Bryant, something to the tune of, “We’ve run that defense for four years. What are you doing?”

“I have had in my career, obviously, a bunch of technicals, and I have never had one for yelling at a player for not making a rotation,” Huggins said. “I was frustrated because I have got a four-year guy who doesn’t make a rotation. I was yelling at him and this guy T’s me from across the court and I am yelling at Truck. He couldn’t even have thought I was yelling at him. He was not even in my field of vision.”

Big East officials ... but that’s another column that has already been written.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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