WVU slugs out win over Pitt 69-59 in Backyard Brawl

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              Pittsburgh guard Xavier Johnson (1) drives past West Virginia guard James Bolden (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Beetle Bolden scored 18 points to lead West Virginia to a 69-59 win over archrival Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl on Saturday.

The Mountaineers (6-3) won the defensive slugfest by doing what they do best, force turnovers. Pitt’s 24 turnovers led to 22 points for their former Big East rivals. WVU also struggled however, with 26 turnovers throughout the game, the most by a Mountaineer team since 2002.

“They play really hard,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said of Pitt. “They play really hard and (Pitt head coach) Jeff (Capel) runs really good stuff.”

Both West Virginia and Pittsburgh played chippy basketball in the first half. Jared Wilson-Frame and Kene Chukwuka of Pitt as well as Lamont West and Andrew Gordon of WVU picked up technical fouls in the first half.

“Every game is always physical,” WVU’s Sagaba Konate said. “It’s just how you react to it, so that’s what we did. We reacted to it today.”

The Panthers (7-3) were hampered primarily by poor shooting early. After a Sidy N’Dir dunk put Pitt up three midway through the first half, the Panthers went on a shooting drought that would last more than eight-and-a-half minutes. Wilson-Frame and Trey McGowens nailed a couple of 3s late, but the Mountaineers went into the locker room with a 39-27 lead.

Pitt struggled to chip away at West Virginia’s lead throughout the game, but a late 6-0 run with under three minutes left did cut the lead to single digits. Bolden responded with a couple of free throws with under a minute left and the Panthers were unable to make a shot with the remaining 58 seconds.

Konate came off the bench to score 16 points with nine rebounds. Konate also added seven blocks, which broke a West Virginia school record. Esa Ahmad added 13 points.

Xavier Johnson led Pitt with 21 points and six rebounds. McGowens added 18 points.

“It was a hard fought game, a very physical game,” said Capel. “Obviously, a very emotional game. At the end of the day, we have to minimize our mistakes.”

BIG PICTURE

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have lost three of their last four games. They’ll host Maryland Eastern Shore, New Orleans and Colgate before starting ACC play at home against Cam Johnson and North Carolina.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers looked very much like the “Press Virginia” version of years past, scoring 22 off of 24 Pitt turnovers. That skill will come in handy for West Virginia with Rhode Island and NCAA Tournament mainstay Lehigh left on their non-conference schedule.

MILESTONE

West Virginia’s Konate broke the program record for blocks with seven on the day. He now has 191 over his career in Morgantown, surpassing D’or Fischer.

“It feels great,” Konate said of the record. “It’s not that easy. It takes hard work and dedication.”

Huggins had said on Friday Konate would not play against Pitt due to a knee injury.

“I tricked you, didn’t I?” Huggins said. “He was going to play.”

NOTABLE ABSENCE

West Virginia freshman phenom Jordan McCabe did not play against Pitt. He played only five minutes in the Mountaineers’ 66-56 loss against Florida in New York on Tuesday.

McCabe has 25 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists in 106 minutes over eight games this season.

SERIES HISTORY

With the win, the Mountaineers have an opportunity to get 100 wins over the Panthers with the remaining scheduled games in the series. West Virginia leads the series over Pitt 98-88, and still have two more games scheduled between the two programs (2019-20 at Pitt, 2020-21 at WVU).

Both teams played each other at least once a year from 1918 until 2012, when West Virginia left the Big East for the Big 12.

“Honestly, I think it’s going to take a while before West Virginia-Pitt becomes what it was,” Huggins said. “There’s been a long time in between games. I think it’s still a rivalry because it’s close enough for both fans to get to either place, but it’s not what it was.”

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh will have a week off before hosting Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday.

West Virginia will also have a week off, taking on Rhode Island in the Hall of Fame Showcase on Dec. 16.

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