By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If this was the last game in the Backyard Brawl series between West Virginia University and Pittsburgh, let it be known that it was a memorable one for the Mountaineers and one that will be erased from the embarrassed Panthers’ memories like yesterday’s lesson from a chalkboard.
WVU dominated the second half Thursday for a 66-48 victory.
Gaining revenge for a 72-66 loss in Morgantown by outhustling and outmuscling the Panthers, WVU kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. They had lost five of six coming into this game, but now are 17-10 and 7-7 in the Big East.
The precarious position in which they find themselves outweighed even the thought that WVU is heading to the Big 12 next year and Pitt to the ACC soon after that with the continuation of the Backyard Brawl series almost as questionable as is the trip to the NCAAs.
Because of that, coach Bob Huggins, a West Virginia native and former Mountaineer captain, could not afford to let any emotion enter his thinking in this historic game.
“We’re trying to get in the NCAAs,” he said when asked if he allowed himself any emotion. “We know we’ve got to win games.”
And they went about it the right way.
Kevin Jones continued his march to Big East Player of the Year honors with his 18th double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 13 rebounds, Darryl “Truck” Bryant, yanked from the starting lineup due to a shooting slump and some midnight madness of his own, scored 15 points and chipped in with seven rebounds, six of them offensive.
Deniz Kilicli, for the fourth straight game, dominated inside and scored 14 points, and Gary Browne had 12 with five assists, while Jabarie Hinds, although not shooting well, was a spark both on offense and defense, scoring five, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists without a turnover.
Huggins made some subtle defensive changes from the Morgantown game and they completely befuddled Pitt’s two best players, Tray Woodall going just 5 of 16 from the floor as he had 12 points and eight assists, but also four turnovers, while scorer Ashton Gibbs hit only 2 of 11 and scored 8 points.
The intrigue in the evening surrounded Bryant more than the game. The senior guard had not come off the bench since Jan. 1, 2010. He had been involved in an incident downtown Morgantown that had the police called, but there was no report made.
All Huggins would say about his benching was, “He’d been playing too many minutes,” which he was as he was averaging 37.2 minutes a game, but more important he wasn’t playing well during those minutes.
“He wasn’t making too many shots,” Huggins said.
“It’s been a rough week,” Bryant said. “I’m just happy now. Stuff happens and that’s what happened.”
You heard it here first.
The game was close through the first half, WVU escaping with a 26-25 lead, but you sensed that the Mountaineers were getting the better of the flow of the game. And in the second half it was nolo contendere, as WVU shot 46.2 percent and hit free throws.
What’s more, WVU hit 18 of 19 free throws in the game – yes, that’s this WVU team – and clinched it by making free throws for 12 of their final 14 points.
Pitt really didn’t know what hit them.
“This series, it’s a crazy series,” Jones said. “The toughest minded team usually wins.”
And that was West Virginia on this night.
NOTES: Freshman Tommie McCune, who has spent the season buried on the WVU bench, was not with the team as he was serving a one-game suspension for an unspecified reason. McCune had played only 8 minutes since before Christmas, had scored only one basket all year and had more turnovers (4) than points (3) … Former Mountaineer Mike Gansey in a front-row seat behind the WVU bench for the game. … This was West Virginia’s biggest win in Pittsburgh since 1967.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.