Confidence is growing for Panthers with third win in a row
Pitt forward Lamar Patterson tries to get past West Virginia's Kevin Jones to score.
Tray Woodall celebrates two of his 24 points against West Virginia Monday in Morgantown, W.Va.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Things were not looking good for Pitt midway through the first half Monday night against West Virginia. The Mountaineers were playing suffocating defense, and the Panthers were about to let the game get away from them.
Then Tray Woodall stepped up and saved the day -- and perhaps the season -- for the Panthers.
Woodall took the game over late in the first half with some scintillating shooting, and the Panthers hung on for a 72-66 victory. It was the third consecutive victory for the Panthers, who had lost eight in a row.
Woodall, a redshirt junior point guard, was 8 for 12 from the field and scored 24 points to pace the Panthers. He was 3 for 5 from 3-point range, with all three of those coming in the first half when he torched the Mountaineers for 16 points.
Woodall scored 11 of those 16 points in the final 6:32 of the half. He confidently knocked down two step-back 3-pointers in the final three minutes before halftime, including one just before the buzzer sounded that netted a 33-29 halftime advantage.
"I'm confident in myself that I can get it going," Woodall said. "I'm a creative point guard first. But at the same time I'm a leader, and if my team needs me to step up and score some baskets, I try to do that for them."
Pitt sorely needed it after scoring just nine points in the first 12 minutes of the half. The Panthers scored 24 points over the final eight minutes, and they never looked back once they took a 30-29 lead with 48 seconds to go before halftime.
"That's a big plus when he does that," senior forward Nasir Robinson said of Woodall's shooting ability.
"When he gets it going like that it's huge."
"He came out and played his heart out," junior center Dante Taylor said.
"He was doing everything he worked on in the offseason tonight. He was doing that dribble and step-back 3. I'm happy for him."
It was Woodall's fourth game back after missing 11 of 12 with an abdominal injury. Pitt is 3-1 in those games with the lone loss coming against Louisville in his first game after missing a month.
"I'm very happy for our guys and how they've battled and what they've become," coach Jamie Dixon said. "As a coach, you always talk about what you can become and what you're going to be. This is a great example of a team continuing to battle and continuing to work."
Senior guard Ashton Gibbs added 15 points for the Panthers, who shot 46 percent from the field. The Panthers have shot at least 46 percent in all four games since Woodall returned.
Dixon also received some clutch play from Taylor, who contributed eight points and seven rebounds off the bench. It was Taylor who was involved in what proved to be the game's turning point early in the second half.
Taylor scored and was fouled under the basket, and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was called for a technical foul after the play was over. It wound up being a four-point possession for the Panthers and yielded a 41-31 lead with 17:40 remaining after Taylor made his free throw and Gibbs made one of the two free throws for the technical.
Huggins said after the game that he was yelling at his senior guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant for not executing the defense.
"I've 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 yelling at him and this guy [Sean Corbin] Ts me from across the court, and I'm yelling at Truck. He couldn't even have thought I was yelling at him. He was not even in my field of vision."
The Mountaineers made a strong run at the Panthers over the final 15 minutes, but they could never tie or take the lead. Twice in the final 8:13 they cut the lead to two, but the Panthers weathered the storm and survived.
Senior forward Kevin Jones, the Big East's leading scorer and rebounder who finished with 21 points and 13 boards, had an open 3-pointer with 6:11 left that would have given the Mountaineers the lead, but he air-balled the shot from the corner.
The Mountaineers shot just 40 percent from the field for the game.
"We're getting better defensively," Dixon said. "We were a young team that has gotten older, and with that usually comes improvement."
NOTES -- Robinson was 4 for 4 from the field and scored nine points. Robinson is 13 for 13 from the field over the past two games. ... Pitt was 21 for 26 from the free-throw line and made 5 of 6 in the final 1:29 to seal the game. ... West Virginia outrebounded the Panthers, 32-31. ... West Virginia redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen will miss the rest of the season with a fractured ankle.
First Published January 31, 2012 12:00 am