PITTSBURGH -- The very first basketball game in West Virginia history was against Pitt in 1903, and there have been 179 games in the Backyard Brawl rivalry since then. Not one was like this.
No previous game was so long, with so many swings in momentum and so many emotional ups and downs. So many chances to win -- and, too, to lose by a pair of Top 25 rivals who seemingly couldn't stop playing. So many what-ifs and why nots, so much energy expended and so much time devoted to winning a single game.
Gilbert Brown and Ashton Gibbs made two free throws each in the final 30 seconds after Pittsburgh (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) staged a frantic rally to tie it in regulation, then weathered three exhausting overtimes and West Virginia's own comeback to beat the Mountaineers (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) 98-95 on Friday night.
"I was talking today about this game, how it's always a great rivalry and a classic," Brown said. "And it was."
Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker scored 24 points each for Pitt (19-6, 8-4), which tied Georgetown and West Virginia for third place in the Big East by avenging a 19-point loss in Morgantown only 10 days before.
Da'Sean Butler had 32 points and 11 rebounds, Darryl Bryant scored 20 and Devin Ebanks had 17 points and 10 rebounds, yet they couldn't prevent the Mountaineers (19-5, 8-4) from losing their second in a row after they led by double digits in each half.
"This is definitely one of the toughest losses I've had," Bryant said. "This game probably put Pitt in the NCAAs."
This Backyard Brawl was one of the most pulsating in the 107-year rivalry, with Pitt surging back to tie it after trailing by five points with 35 seconds to play in regulation but then failing twice to put it away in overtime.
It was the second time in less than a month the Panthers came from five down in the final minute of regulation to win; they also did it while beating Louisville 82-77 in overtime on Jan. 16, when they trailed 68-63 and barely a half-minute remaining.
"I never thought we'd have another game like that in the same season, but we did," Brown said. "But the Louisville game wasn't on our minds. What was on our minds was what coach [Jamie Dixon] said at halftime, he said we were going to win the game. Only a minute to go, and coach still said we were going to win this game. That's what helped us push through."
Pitt led 78-75 near the end of the first overtime but Bryant's 3 tied it with a second left. Butler made three free throws with 20.6 seconds remaining in the second overtime and Pitt's Gary McGhee missed a potential game-winning tip-in with a second remaining, forcing only the second three-overtime game in Panthers history. The first was against George Washington in the 1975-76 season.
In the final overtime, Butler scored with 40.6 seconds left to put West Virginia up 95-94, but Brown -- so exhausted moments before he couldn't dive on the floor for a loose ball -- dropped in his two foul shots with 28.8 seconds left.
Ebanks missed an off-balance jumper from the top of the key with 12 seconds to play, allowing Gibbs -- whose free throw miss at the end of the first overtime set up Bryant's tying 3 -- to convert his two free throws with 11.4 seconds remaining.
Bryant missed a jumper with two seconds left, as Pitt fans who feared the game was over when West Virginia led 68-63 with 36 seconds remaining in regulation staged a jubilant celebration.
Pitt is 6-0 against top-five teams at home since opening the Petersen Events Center in 2002.
"I've done this for 30 years, man," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, asked if he could remember a game with so many swings. "There isn't much I haven't seen. They didn't fold, they continue to compete, but they couldn't have won without a lot of help from us."
The Mountaineers dominated Pitt 70-51 in Morgantown on Feb. 3 as their own fans pelted the floor with garbage and Pitt assistant Tom Herrion was struck under his right eye by a coin, but this game was incident free -- and featured a different winner despite West Virginia's 51-44 edge in rebounding.
"I'm proud of our students and the way they handled everything," Dixon said.
West Virginia, coming off an 82-75 loss to Villanova, took that 68-63 lead on Bryant's two free throws but, remarkably, the Panthers tied it only nine seconds later -- just when their fans were starting to head to the exits, resigned to the Mountaineers' first season sweep in five years.
A game that looked to be over was, in actuality, only getting started.
Gibbs' shot was similar to Ronald Ramon's desperation 3-pointer that beat West Virginia 55-54 two years ago in Pittsburgh. Bryant got off a shot off in the lane with a second left but missed, and the game was headed to overtime.
Then another, and another during a 3-hour game that didn't end until after midnight Eastern time and left some of the fans as weary and as emotionally drained as the players.