PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh did everything it could to prepare for West Virginia freshman Oscar Tshiebwe. The real thing, however, proved to be another matter entirely.
Frustrated by a foul-riddled performance in his debut with the Mountaineers last week, when he managed just five points and five rebounds in a sloppy victory over Akron, Tshiebwe vowed to head coach Bob Huggins he’d be better the next time out.
The 6-foot-9, 258-pound freshman forward wasn’t just better against the Panthers. He was dominant.
Getting wherever he wanted to whenever he wanted to, Tshiebwe overwhelmed Pitt in a 68-53 victory on Friday night that provided a glimpse of why he was the linchpin of a recruiting class Huggins hopes will help West Virginia bounce back following a last-place finish in the Big 12 a year ago.
Tshiebwe scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds as the Mountaineers (2-0) pulled away in the second half to win their third straight over the Panthers since the longtime series was renewed in 2017.
“He takes a beating physically and it doesn’t bother him,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to get the ball out of his hands. Once he gets his hands on it ... Oscar (can) carry the load.”
He had some help, though at times it looked like Tshiebwe didn’t need it. Emmitt Matthews finished with 17 points and eight rebounds for the Mountaineers. Sean McNeil chipped in 11 points off the bench as West Virginia took a significant step forward defensively after giving up 84 in a season-opening victory over Akron.
The Mountaineers dominated Pitt on the glass, outrebounding the Panthers 51-37 and holding Pitt to 12 percent shooting (3 of 25) over the final 20 minutes to improve to 99-88 in 187 all-time meetings between the two schools separated by 70 miles.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel pointed to the first three minutes of the second half as the turning point. West Virginia led 36-35 then slowly took control by clamping down on the Panthers. Pitt had a handful of opportunities near the rim but couldn’t convert.
“We didn’t finish strong,” Capel said. “We didn’t play through contact. That gave them even more confidence to become even more physical and become even more dominant. They had 19 offensive rebounds. In the second half, our inability to score … 3-25 is as bad as I’ve seen, as bad as I’ve been a part of it. A big part of it is their defense.”
Trey McGowens led Pitt with 13 points, freshman Justin Champagnie added 12 and junior college transfer Ryan Murphy continued his strong start with 11 points, but the Panthers had no answers for Tshiebwe or the rest of the Mountaineers after a taut, combative first half in which the teams combined for 25 fouls.
The barrage of whistles forced Capel to go deeper into his bench than he had in any of his team’s first three games. McGowens and Murphy basically kept Pitt afloat, with McGowens attacking the basket and Murphy knocking down jump shots. In the second half, however, the Panthers’ open looks vanished.
“It’s hard when they are that big,” said the 6-foot-2 Murphy. “You can’t really simulate a 7-foot guy … They’re big. They’re tough. We should have played better.”
A YEARLY AFFAIR?
Huggins welcomed the idea of facing Pitt every season. The rivalry has one more game remaining in its series renewal.
“It’s been such a great rivalry so many years,” Huggins said. “I don’t know why we don’t play them in every sport.”
West Virginia: Huggins did little to hide his displeasure with his team’s defensive effort against the Zips. Given a week to get ready for the Panthers, West Virginia responded by suffocating Pitt in the second half. Tshiebwe didn’t just rely on his strength to do whatever he wanted, he regularly beat the Panthers down the floor and was tireless in the paint offensively.
Pitt: The Panthers opened the season with a gritty 63-61 victory over Florida State by playing with a relentlessness at both ends, a relentlessness that’s been lacking in losses to Nicholls State and the Mountaineers. Pitt struggled to generate any offense when McGowens wasn’t driving to the basket.
West Virginia: Welcomes Northern Colorado to the WVU Coliseum on Monday.
Pittsburgh: Hosts Monmouth as part of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off.
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