Morgantown, W.Va. Pittsburgh had a solid Plan B for West Virginia in the absence of injured guard Ashton Gibbs — spread the ball around inside to the Panthers’ other playmakers.
The fourth-ranked Panthers overcame an awful start by shooting 61 percent from the field in the second half and beat No. 25 West Virginia, 71-66, on Monday night.
Without Gibbs, the Panthers’ leading scorer (16.3) who is out up to two weeks with a left knee injury, Pittsburgh had little outside shooting presence — and it didn’t matter. The Panthers, who lead the nation in rebounding margin, outrebounded West Virginia, 40-28, on the strength of 18 offensive boards.
“We really focused on rebounding,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “We cut down their offensive rebounds. We won with our rebounding and defense and that’s what we set out to do.”
From start to finish, Pittsburgh pounded the ball inside, piling up 42 points in the paint against a Mountaineers defense that eventually wore down.
Nasir Robinson scored 15 points, Gary McGhee had 13, Travon Woodall added 12 and Brad Wanamaker scored 11 for the Panthers (22-2, 10-1 Big East).
“Ashton is a good player and a great shotmaker for us and without him, we just wanted to come out and play our game,” Wanamaker said. “We didn’t want to try and fill in his shoes. We just wanted to stay with Pitt basketball and get the guys that sub in to play their game.”
Pittsburgh went hard to the glass after being held to a season-low 23 points in the first half. The Panthers went ahead to stay with 8 minutes left in the game to improve to 5-0 on the road in the Big East and continue their best overall start in conference play.
This is the 10th straight season Pitt has won at least 20 games overall and at least 10 in the Big East, the conference’s longest current streak.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins had pointed to the Pittsburgh game as a possible jump start to a solid final month of the Big East race. Instead, the Mountaineers’ shortcomings showed and West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) has now lost three of its last five.
“They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it,” Huggins said. “They just outmanned us.”
Huggins said without Gibbs, “they just attack the rim.”
In the first half, “we converged on the guys that were driving,” Huggins said.
The second half was another matter.
Pittsburgh had just three turnovers after halftime, shot 61 percent (17 of 28) from the field in the second half and 44 percent for the game.
Deniz Kilicli scored a career-high 19 points and Kevin Jones added 12 for the Mountaineers, but West Virginia’s bench outscored its starters, 34-32.
West Virginia guard Casey Mitchell played 24 minutes in a backup role after being reinstated a game earlier from an indefinite suspension, but he wasn’t much help. The Mountaineers’ leading scorer was limited to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
West Virginia was aching for any kind of offense after managing a season-low 50 points in Saturday’s loss at No. 9 Villanova and Kilicli provided it.
He scored on a left-handed baby hook and made a three-point play 25 seconds apart to bring West Virginia within 59-58 with 4:03 remaining.
Gilbert Brown made a layup and a three-point play during Pittsburgh’s ensuing 12-4 run.
“They threw the first punch today,” Wanamaker said. “We settled down a little and came back in the second half and made some plays, penetrated and got guys open looks.”