West Virginia men’s basketball beat Pitt for the 100th time in the basketball Backyard Brawl 74-59 in front of a capacity WVU Coliseum crowd on Friday.
Jalen Bridges led the game with 18 points on 66.7 percent shooting, but the real story of the Mountaineer victory came from the defense — WVU brought back its patented full-court press and forced 32 Panther turnovers, notching 34 points from those takeaways.
“[Point guard] Kedy [Johnson] is very good. His defensive pressure is very good. [Guard] Malik [Curry] is vgood. “I think Malik gives us more of a shot on offense….I mean how would you like one of those guys to go out and then another one comes in after you? I think they really wear on people.”
Pitt and West Virginia traded the lead in the opening minutes as the Panthers tried to use their size to get the ball inside. The Pitt size advantage was prominent throughout the game, as the visitors dominated the boards with a 16-rebound advantage.
That didn’t matter much, though, because the Mountaineers made their shots. WVU sunk 51.7 percent of its field goals, including 40.9 percent from deep — the majority of which came from Bridges, who shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Bridges was one of four WVU scorers in double figures, followed by Taz Sherman, who took a game-high 20 shots on the day.
Sean McNeil added another 11 points, while Malik Curry came off the bench to add 10.
“I mean [Curry’s] attitude has been phenomenal. He has just been great,” Huggins said. “If he screws up something, he’s like ‘coach how am I supposed to handle this? What am I supposed to do with this?’ He has been fantastic.”
Curry was one of a corps of WVU transfers to make an impact — Dimon Carrigan contributed 14 minutes and added three blocks, while Pauly Paulicap chipped in six points and two boards.
John Hugley paced the Panthers with 17 points on 70 percent shooting, but his minutes were limited after he entered early foul trouble. Mouhamadou Gueye scored 10 as the only other double-digit scorer.
Despite the rebounding advantage, not a single Panther reached double-digit boards. William Jeffress led the game with seven, while Hugley tied with Bridges with six.
The Backyard Brawl made a bombastic return to the Mountain State, as the Coliseum packed in a crowd of 14,100. Despite the players’ relative unfamiliarity with the rivalry — only two Mountaineers had previously taken part — it did get chippy, with some hard fouls and two chippy instances which brought the teams close before the referees brought them apart.
The victory for WVU moves the Mountaineers to 2-0 on the season as they prepare for a trip to the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic in South Carolina. They tip off against Elon on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
Huggins also achieved an individual milestone with the win, earning his 902nd victory to tie Indiana legend Bob Knight on the all-time wins list.
Pitt falls to 0-2 on the season, and next host UNC Wilmington on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.