MORGANTOWN, W.Va. It took a reversal of roles for No. 14 West Virginia to snap a season-high three-game losing streak with a 68-64 win over Louisville on Saturday.
The Mountaineers, foiled from the outside in losing four of their last five, turned to inside shooting and defense and outpaced Louisville’s typically solid pressure for the win.
Kevin Pittsnogle scored 21 points and Mike Gansey added 17 for WVU, but 26 of those 38 points come from inside the arc — a surprise for the Big East’s most prolific outside shooting tandem.
“We learned at Syracuse that we had to attack inside and outside for scoring success,” WVU coach John Beilein said. “It’s rare that you see a game where we shoot twenty-some percent from 3-point range and win.”
The difference was that West Virginia (19-8, 10-4 Big East) hit 16 of 25 two-point shots in a game where it missed 23 of its trademark 31 3-pointers.
“Our zone was terrific and we got them to shoot a really low percentage, but our man wasn’t as good,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “They put so much pressure on you when you have to play man.”
The Cardinals, hurt in the NCAA Tournament last year by 18 WVU 3-pointers, extended its man defense only to leave the middle open for short jumpers. West Virginia used the spot to find cutters toward the basket for easy lay-ins.
“I had heard rumors that I couldn’t dunk, so I figured I would get some today,” said the 6-foot-11 Pittsnogle, ridiculed for soft inside play of late. “We were able to take more inside shots instead of relying so much on the outside shot.”
The win pushes WVU within one victory of sealing one of four Big East Tournament first round byes. Louisville (17-10, 5-9) is now in a battle for the 12th and final spot in the Big East Tournament with two games left, including one at No. 3 Connecticut.
West Virginia built a 61-50 lead with 3:52 left on Saturday but saw it whittled down to seven in the final minute. The game then became dramatic when Pittsnogle fouled Andre McGee on a drive to the basket with 4.8 seconds left. McGee made the lay-in and accidentally hit the resulting free throw to pull Louisville within 66-64.
“Andre is a 51 percent shooter and we were trying to miss that,” Pitino said. “I think I should have just told him to miss it.”
J.D. Collins was then fouled and made both free throws for the final margin. They added for his career-high 13th point. He also had five rebounds and three assists and headed WVU’s press break.
Louisville was led by Taquan Dean’s 25 points. Juan Palacios added 14.
“I thought that was the difference maker,” Pitino said. “We played great but they’re just better at what they do than we are at what we do now.”
Tied at 31 at the half, the teams split the first six points of the second half for a 37-37 tie with 16:22 left before trading leads five times in six possessions over the next three minutes.
The last lead change came on Pittsnogle’s first 3-pointer of the game and gave West Virginia a 44-42 edge. It never trailed again.
Collins drilled another 3-pointer on the Mountaineers’ next trip only to have McGee answer at the other end for the game’s 15th 3-pointer, which pulled Louisville within 47-45 with 11:54 left.
West Virginia then used a 14-5 run over the next eight minutes for its largest lead of the game at 61-50. Gansey and Pittsnogle combined for eight points in the push. Collins added five, including one of his season-high two 3-pointers.