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Pitt whupped by West Virginia 74-59 in Backyard Brawl

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a staggering 78-63 loss to the Citadel in its season opener on Tuesday, Pitt traveled down I-79 to take on West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl on Friday night, and to the surprise of no one, the Panthers were taken down by the Mountaineers 74-59.

Pitt looked more capable and cohesive in the opening minutes of the contest than they did all night against the Citadel, and as a result, the team was able to shoot out to an early 8-4 lead, with Femi Odukale and Mouhamadou Gueye chipping in four points apiece. However, West Virginia then jumped ahead 12-8 before the two longtime rivals began to trade blows around the halfway point of the first half.

Amid the back-and-forth battle, Pitt put itself at a disadvantage with constant turnovers and unforced errors, and as a result, the Mountaineers had ample opportunities to build on their lead. Those opportunities would see the home team accrue a 34-19 advantage with under four minutes left in the half. At that point, Pitt had almost as many turnovers as points, with 17 giveaways to its 19 points. For comparison, West Virginia had five.

By the halftime break, Pitt had pulled within a dozen of West Virginia, with the score at 36-24, but the outlook for the remainder of the game looked bleak, given the Panthers’ disjointed play and the Mountaineers’ swarming defense. But there was still a glimmer of hope, as John Hugley, who was benched six minutes into the game due to foul trouble, was set to return.

Hugley would make an instant impact, scoring Pitt’s first two points of the second half and trimming the deficit to 36-26. Four minutes later, it would be 43-30, with all six of Pitt’s points coming courtesy of Hugley. And at the time, those six points tied Hugley with Gueye and Dan Oladapo for the team lead in points.

As Pitt gathered momentum, West Virginia stagnated a bit around the 40-point mark, allowing the Panthers to pull within 10, with the score 43-33. But again, unforced errors would derail Pitt’s efforts, as turnovers and missed free throws continued to pile up. Those snafus would allow West Virginia to distance itself every time Pitt drew near, and that pattern would hold up until the midway point of the second half, with West Virginia leading 59-40.

From that point on, the game would continue to spiral out of control for Pitt, with West Virginia maintaining about a 15- to 20-point cushion for the duration of the contest and ultimately finishing Pitt off by a score of 74-59.

With the loss, the Panthers fell to 0-2 on the season, and through the two losses, their only saving grace has been the play of Hugley, who is now averaging 22 points and eight rebounds. Pitt will look to notch its first win next Tuesday, when the team returns home to the Petersen Events Center to take on UNC Wilmington.