Monday Recap: Woodall Leads Pitt Past West Virginia

January 31st, 2012
It wasn't that long ago that many left the Pittsburgh Panthers for dead, as they were in the midst of what would eventually become an eight-game losing streak. A key factor in the struggles that Jamie Dixon's team experienced was the absence of point guard Tray Woodall, who was out with abdominal and groin injuries. Woodall's back now and he looks to be healthy as well, as he led Pittsburgh to a 72-66 win over rival West Virginia in Morgantown with 24 points, four rebounds and three assists on the night. Woodall scored 16 of his 24 in the first half, proving too difficult for the Mountaineers to stop regardless of who they put on him.

Ashton Gibbs added 15 points for Pittsburgh, who didn't shoot well from three (3-for-10) but did make 21 of their 26 free throws. Also of importance in the win was the fact that Pitt outscored West Virginia 36-26 in the paint, a surprising stat given how much the Mountaineers call on forwards Kevin Jones (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Deniz Kilicli (12 points, nine rebounds). Neither team shot well from the perimeter, making the hustle plays even more of a factor in the outcome. And more times than not it was a Panther who came up with the big play.

"They out-toughed us. We blocked three shots in the first half, and they pick it up and get three-point plays out of it," remarked WVU head coach Bob Huggins when asked what the difference was. "We just don't get to the ball. Four balls went out of bounds and they save it back inbounds and we have a guy here and a guy here and they have a guy behind our two guys and he runs in and catches it and shoots a lay-up and our two guys still have yet to move. We just didn't get to the ball."

Pitt got off to a good start to the second half and they received the added boost of a technical foul assessed to Huggins despite the fact that he was yelling at Truck Bryant for missing a defensive rotation. Given what happened at Syracuse on Saturday another missed call could have been used as an excuse for the Mountaineers to self-destruct but they didn't, eventually cutting the Pitt lead to two points with 8:14 remaining.

This would be as close as the Mountaineers would get as a Panther team that's playing with a great deal of confidence hung on down the stretch. It's been known that this team has a great deal of pride, and players such as Gibbs, Woodall and Nasir Robinson won't allow them to lie down. Can Pittsburgh do enough to work their way back into the NCAA Tournament conversation? Don't rule that out, especially with Woodall back and playing the way he has of late.

"Obviously, I'm very happy for our guys and what they have done and how they have battled and what they have become," said Dixon following the game. "As you coach, you want to talk about what you can become and what you want to be and this is an example of a team that continued to battle and do the work."

Other Notable Happenings

1. Sears BracketBusters pairings announced, and quite a few fan bases aren't pleased with the results.
Monday was a big day in college basketball as the pairings for the upcoming Sears BracketBusters event were announced, and in the end it was tough to find many please fan bases outside of Saint Mary's and Murray State, who will play each other in Murray on February 18th. The Gaels are currently undefeated in the WCC and with a 21-2 record Randy Bennett's team will provide a major test for a Murray State team that's the nation's lone undefeated squad.

Long Beach State, who has taken on all comers in their non-conference schedule, will visit a Creighton team that leads the Missouri Valley and boasts an 8-2 record against RPI Top 100 teams. The 49ers are 2-5 against such teams and their two wins (Xavier and Pittsburgh) lost some luster due to the struggles of those teams, which sparked anger on the part of the Bluejay fan base.

Another fan base that was none too thrilled with their draw was that of Wichita State (3-4 vs. RPI Top 100), who will visit a Davidson (1-3 vs. RPI Top 100) team that owns a win over Kansas (in Kansas City) but has also played nine games (8-1 record) against teams ranked 201st or worse in the NCAA's RPI rankings. George Mason, currently first in the CAA, didn't even merit a televised game (non-televised match ups) in the eyes of the schedule-makers. But a slate that features 19 games against teams ranked 101 or worse in the RPI (17-2 record) may have had something to do with that.

Oral Roberts is another team that has a beef with the process as they drew an Akron team whose profile won't do a whole lot to boost that of the Golden Eagles. Clearly not everyone's going to be thrilled with the match ups, but at this point teams have a couple of weeks to improve their own resumes beforehand. How useful is BracketBusters? You'll likely get different answers based on who you ask, but the formula for getting to the NCAA Tournament hasn't changed with or without the event: win.

2. Michael Dixon Jr's driving bucket pushes Missouri past Texas in Austin.
Following a Kim English three-pointer with 4:44 remaining Frank Haith's Tigers led 63-53 and looked to be a safe bet to close out Texas despite being on the road and getting out-rebounded by a 38-26 margin at game's end. But the Tigers would go nearly three minutes without a made field goal, leaving the door open for a Longhorn team that at times couldn't stay out of its own way on the offensive end.

Texas took advantage and eventually took the lead on a four-point possession triggered by a flagrant 1 foul on Michael Dixon Jr. Dixon Jr. made up for his foul 25 seconds after, scoring on a left-handed shot off glass to give Missouri the 67-66 win. Texas had 27 seconds to find a shot, and while Myck Kabongo did get a look the Longhorns looked too confused to be allowed to play the possession out as they had a timeout remaining.

"We had two things ready: one for man and one for zone," said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. "And the one for the zone, we didn't move or cut the way we needed to. But we knew. During the timeout, we said, 'You've got to be ready for a zone.' And what we wanted to do, we didn't do as hard and effective as we had to do it."

Dixon Jr. scored 21 points off the bench while Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe scored 13 apiece for the Tigers, who remained tied for first place in the Big 12 ahead of a huge battle with rival Kansas this coming weekend. Even with the rebounding and free throw (16-8 Texas edge in points) numbers working against them Missouri found a way to win, and that's what good teams do.

3. While Mississippi Valley State has a sold grip on first place in the SWAC, the race for the two-seed became much more intriguing.
The Delta Devils are now 9-0 in conference play following their 77-59 win over Grambling, and while Southern is 7-2 the Jaguars are ineligible for postseason play so they can't wrestle away the top seed for the conference tournament. Texas Southern is eligible, but their 66-59 overtime loss at Alabama State despite leading by as many as 18 points dropped them to 6-3 in SWAC play and they're now just a game ahead of the Hornets and Prairie View A&M at the halfway point.

Neither team shot well from the field but it was Alabama State who took better advantage of their own misses, grabbing 21 offensive rebounds (OR%: 47.7%) and out-rebounding the Tigers 47-36 on the night. Ivory White led the way for the victors with 21 points and nine rebounds, Phillip Crawford added 17 and Ryan Watts scored 15 points off the bench. Texas Southern's reserves outscored Alabama State's 40-19 (Fred Sturdivant scored 16 of the 40) but that didn't matter much due to the extra opportunities they gave up on the glass and the fact that the starters combined to shoot 8-for-25 from the field.

Next up for Texas Southern is a trip to Prairie View, which means that the race for the two-seed could become even more entertaining should the Tigers lose. Up 48-30 with 9:04 remaining the odds of Tony Harvey's team closing the game out looked to be good, but when you make just one field goal and turn the ball over seven times down the stretch that can come back to burn you. That's exactly what happened to Texas Southern, and as a result they now find themselves in a situation they could have easily avoided.

Quick Hitters

1. Clemson will be without the services of junior forward Milton Jennings at Virginia on Tuesday night as he's suspended due to a failure to comply with the team's academic standards. Jennings is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Tigers, who are currently 11-9 overall and 3-3 in the ACC.

2. The strangest game of the night took place in Norfolk as Coppin State handed Norfolk State their first MEAC loss by the final score of 87-82. Fang Mitchell's team led 35-13 at the half, only to survive a staggering 69-point second half from the Spartans to move to 6-3 in the MEAC. Kyle O'Quinn, who can make a serious claim for being the nation's most underrated player, led NSU with 27 points and 18 rebounds.

3. Belmont and Mercer both took care of business, with the Bruins beating North Florida 83-69 in Nashville while Mercer won 75-66 at Florida Gulf Coast. Kerron Johnson led four Belmont players in double figures with 16 points and Blake Jenkins added 15 and seven rebounds, while Langston Hall's 20 points and six assists led Mercer to their win. USC Upstate is a game back in the loss column but after them the rest of the A-Sun is three games back.

4. Southeast Missouri State moved to 7-2 in the OVC with a 74-53 win at Eastern Illinois, and they remain in second place (two games behind Murray State) as a result. Marland Smith scored 19 points and Tyler Stone added 18 and ten boards for the Redhawks, who have won eight of their last ten games.

5. With head coach Bobby Cremins taking a leave of absence from the team due to an undisclosed health issue, it was good to see Charleston pick up a win. The Cougars won 68-52 at Samford as Antwaine Wiggins scored 25 points to lead the way.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech)
Murphy went off in the Golden Eagles' 98-80 win over SIU-Edwardsville, scoring 50 points (16-21 FG) and dishing out seven assists.

2. F/C Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State)
27 points and 18 rebounds in the Spartans' 87-82 loss to Coppin State.

3. G Tray Woodall (Pittsburgh)
24 points (8-12 FG), four rebounds and three assists in the Panthers' 72-66 win at West Virginia.