WVU basketball: Second half dooms Mountaineers
PITTSBURGH -- If any basketball team could have expected what eventually happened in the second half Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center, it would be West Virginia.
And if there's a team that couldn't explain the way it gave in after halftime in a 71-58 loss to No. 4 Pitt, it would be the same Mountaineers.
"We can't put two halves together," WVU guard Joe Mazzulla said.
"I don't know if it's mental or what it is, but we can't make shots in the second half and it starts to put pressure on our defense.
"We work so hard to get shots and when they come up short and they go down and wear us down on defense, which is what we like to do, we just can't be effective."
WVU led by a point at halftime, but was outscored, 41-27 in the second half and allowed the Panthers 11 more points in the second half than Pitt's first-half total. The Mountaineers have allowed 17 straight opponents to do that and have been outscored in the second half of five of the past six games and 11 of 15 Big East games.
The Panthers shot 62.2 percent in the second half (15-for-23) before a crowd of 12,876, while WVU shot 26.1 percent (6-for-23) as it lost for the fourth time in six games.
"We're definitely going to have to kick that habit somehow if we want to make it to the NCAA Tournament," said forward Kevin Jones. "Right now, we're fighting for our lives and we all know what we have to do."
The Panthers improved to 7-1 against the Mountaineers at the Petersen Events Center and have six straight wins. They are now 148-12 in their building, including 16-1 this season.
The loss was to Notre Dame, a team the Mountaineers beat with a solid second half in Morgantown on Saturday.
A repeat performance was not to be, though. WVU led 31-30 at the half, but the Panthers (25-3, 13-2 Big East) started the second half with a 17-5 run. The Mountaineers needed two timeouts, the second while staring at a 47-36 deficit.
WVU started 2-for-12 while Pitt was 8-for-12.
"Can't let that happen," Mountaineer forward Cam Thoroughman said. "They come out and run it right down our throats and take it to the rim four straight times and either score or get fouled. That kills you."
Casey Mitchell made a three for the Mountaineers to get it to single digits, but the Panthers scored the next four points and eight of the next 10, including two free throws from Nasir Robinson, a 52.5-percent free-throw shooter who was 0-for-3 to that point in the game.
Pitt actually scored on 10 of 13 possessions to build a lead as large as 17 points. The Panthers allowed the lead to dip to nine points with 1:38 to go when WVU made six free throws in four seconds on two fouls and a technical against the Panthers.
Pitt got easy dunks on the next two possessions and swept WVU for the second time in the past three seasons and the third time in five seasons.
The loss dropped WVU (17-10, 8-7) into a tie for ninth place in the Big East standings with Marquette and Cincinnati. The top eight teams in the standings get a bye in next month's Big East Tournament - two rounds for the top four and one round for the next four.
The Mountaineers could have been no better than seventh place with a win, though, and next play at noon Sunday against Rutgers (13-14, 4-11).
"The killer would be Sunday if we went out and lost," Mazzulla said. "That's the biggest game now. If Pitt plays hard, Rutgers plays that much harder. We need to realize that starting right now."
Mitchell led the Mountaineers with 22 points, but on 5-for-11 shooting. He was 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Mazzulla and Jones both had nine points, but Jones was 4-for-13 and didn't score in the second half, when he played just nine minutes.
"He had good looks," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He generally makes a lot of those."
Truck Bryant had eight points for the Mountaineers after scoring a career-high 25 against Notre Dame. He was 2-for-10.
Deniz Kilicli, who scored a career-high 19 points in the Feb. 7 loss to Pitt, was 1-for-1 for two points. He had no rebounds and three turnovers and fouled out in 12 minutes. John Flowers was scoreless and fouled out in 25 minutes.
"When John gets in foul trouble, it's tough for us and sometimes we break down defensively," Thoroughman said. "He's really that important to us."
Remarkably, the Mountaineers, despite all their offensive trouble in the past month - when they've scored better than 70 points just twice in 10 games - matched a season-low and shot 33.3 percent.
Huggins tried all sorts of combinations and tactics, including posting up his guards in the second half to get Pitt's size away from the basket.
"Just trying to score," he said. "Trying to figure out any way to score."
Robinson led four Panthers in double figures with 15 points. Brad Wannamaker had 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Lamar Patterson and Gilbert Brown both had 11 points.
Pitt shot 57.4 percent for the game and had assists on 23 of 26 baskets.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.