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Panthers' last-second victory helps NCAA Tournament hopes

PITTSBURGH -- The free throws that were taken away badly
hurt West Virginia. The wide-open shot by Pitt's Ronald Ramon that
won the game bothered Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins a whole lot
more.

Ramon barely got off the winning 3-pointer
from the left wing as time expired and Pittsburgh (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) rallied in the final
minute to beat cold-shooting rival West Virginia 55-54 on Thursday
night.

"I'd like to say we drew it up that way," Pitt coach Jamie
Dixon said of a play that was supposed to end with Sam Young taking
the final shot. "But Keith [Benjamin] drove with it and made his
man guard him and he found the open man. Ronald made the shot, but
Keith made the play."

Neither Ramon nor Benjamin knew how much time was left, and
Benjamin said: "I had no choice but to throw it to Ronald. I had
no idea what the clock was. I was hoping he could get it off."

Ramon did, and the Panthers (18-5, 6-4 Big East) got an
important win that substantially helps their NCAA Tournament hopes
and damages those of West Virginia (16-7, 5-5). The Mountaineers
led 53-50 with a minute to play but couldn't find a way to finish
it, mostly because of terrible foul shooting.

Alex Ruoff, an 85 percent free-throw shooter, missed one of two
with nine seconds remaining to prevent West Virginia from taking a
three-point lead. That miss -- the Mountaineers were only 7-of-17
from the line -- proved costly because it meant Ramon's 3 won the
game, rather than tying it and sending it to overtime.

Young and Keith Benjamin scored 10 each for Pitt, which beat the
Mountaineers for the fourth time in a row and the 10th time in 13
games. DeJuan Blair had 12 rebounds, but was limited to 7 points on
3-of-13 shooting.

Darris Nichols scored 16 and Joe Mazzulla had 15 for West
Virginia, which lost its third in four games.

"We're supposed to be a good shooting team, that's what they
tell me," said Huggins, who is playing with former coach John
Beilein's recruits.

"It's consistent," he added about his squad's poor shooting. "It's a
pattern."

The Mountaineers lost to Georgetown 58-57 on Jan. 26 when they
were 12-of-23 from the line. This time, Joe Alexander and Da'Sean
Butler each missed two key free throws apiece down the stretch.

When the Mountaineers finally made two free throws, by Alexander
with slightly more than four minutes remaining, they were wiped off --
the officials reviewed the game tape and decided Cam Thoroughman
should have been on the line instead. He went to the line and
missed the front end of the 1-and-1.

The erased points restored Pitt's 48-45 lead, and Brad Wanamaker
scored on a drive to the basket the next time to give the Panthers
a five-point lead, although West Virginia rallied to score the next
eight points.

"I've never been involved in anything like that," Huggins
said.

Of the final play, Huggins said: "He [Ramon] made a big shot.
We said we can't let him beat us or Sam Young beat us. ... But the
reality is we're relying on people we shouldn't be relying on."

Dixon and his staff screamed repeatedly at officials that the
wrong shooter was at the line. Because a timeout was called
immediately after Alexander shot, the officials could review the
tape. If play hadn't stopped, the mistake wouldn't have been
correctable.

Dixon became impatient with repeated questions about the
mistake, saying "too much is being made of it. The right call was
made. What I don't know is why it took that long. We said all along
it was the wrong shooter."

There were no right shooters for the Mountaineers on a night in
which they shot a combined 37 percent (27-of-70) from the field and
the foul line.

Huggins -- apparently unhappy with a defensive breakdown that led
to Wanamaker's basket -- screamed at Alexander for most of a
60-second timeout, then pulled his leading scorer for the next three
minutes. Huggins' tirade must have had a positive effect as the
Mountaineers scored the next eight points to retake the lead at
53-50 on Nichols' bank shot 3-pointer from the top of the key with
1:22 remaining.

Alexander, also pulled by Huggins in the first half when the two
had an apparent disagreement over defensive responsibilities, was
held to five points on 2-of-11 shooting, or nine points below his
average.

West Virginia, which has lost seven of eight in Pittsburgh, took
an early 13-9 lead but Pitt responded with a 10-0 run that was
finished off by Blair's midcourt steal and jam. In a game featuring
frequent lead changes and ever-shifting momentum, West Virginia
came back with a 7-0 run and led 27-26 at halftime.

The pattern held in the second half. West Virginia scored eight
of the first 10 points to make it 35-28, but Pitt scored the next
eight to regain the lead at 36-35.

Maybe West Virginia's all-gold uniforms were the bad omen. The
Mountaineers football team wore the same color scheme during its
stunning 13-9 loss to Pitt on Dec. 1 that ended West Virginia's
national title hopes. Numerous Pitt students held up signs reading
"13-9."