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Blake Henson and Will Jeffress lead Pete to his first Backyard Brawl win since 2012

Blake Henson and Will Jeffress lead Pete to his first Backyard Brawl win since 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Several players served as catalysts behind Pitt’s 80-63 win Wednesday night over West Virginia in the 190th edition of the Backyard Brawl basketball game.

• Blake Henson scored a career-high with 29 points, breaking a personal best (27) he set just three days earlier. He also broke Pitt’s record with nine 3-pointers.

• Freshman point guard Bob Carrington scored 16 points, with nine assists and just one turnover.

• Ishmael Leggett reached double figures with 10 points while hitting all four of his foul shots, giving him a 92.3% accuracy rate at the free throw line (36 of 39) for the season.

• Guillermo Diaz-Graham made six of seven shots on his way out to hit three of four from beyond the arc. He joined fellow big man Federico Federico in holding WVU’s Jesse Edwards to two offensive rebounds, half his average for the season.

Pitt coach Jeff Capel talked about them all in his postgame conversation with reporters inside the West Virginia Coliseum, and he didn’t ignore the two fouls committed by Jorge Diaz Graham against the Mountaineers. But he reserved some special praise for the man who scored a single point.

“I thought the guy who changed the game was Will (Jeffers),” Capel said of the player sitting to his right.

While Kapil was speaking those words, the player sitting to his left agreed with him.

“Yes, sir,” Henson said.

Pitt (6-3) snapped a five-game losing streak to West Virginia with its first win over the Mountaineers (3-5) since 2012.

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Jeffress played a season-high 25 minutes, 51 seconds, attempted just two shots, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and played smothering defense on WVU’s Quinn Slaczynski in the second half. Slaczynski finished with 22 points, but only six points after halftime. For the game, Pitt had 22 extra points with Jeffress on the floor.

“It’s a testament because it doesn’t show up as much as the points,” Capel said. “But he gave us energy defensively, rebounding. He was a connector. He was an unbelievable communicator. He showed grit and toughness which really helped us be better.”

“This is what a winner looks like,” Henson said. “That’s the definition of a winner. Being able to go out there and put winning first. That’s what it looks like. I appreciate his work and I love him for it.”

Jeffress, a junior who missed all of last season with a foot injury, is making the most of every moment, no matter how limited.

“I knew I was going to give it everything I had, no matter how many games I played or what the stats said,” he said.

Kapil was proud of his team’s response in their first match at the opposition stadium. The crowd of 12,301 was decidedly anti-Panther, except for a small group of Oakland Zoo members in the upper corner of the grandstand.

“I hope they know how much we appreciate them,” Henson said. “We played very aggressively, keeping them in mind.”

“Really, really proud of our team that showed fight, resilience and teamwork,” Capel said. “The players made big plays throughout the entire game. I can talk about every one of them because every one of them stepped in and did some huge things.

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Pitt scored more than half of its points (48) on 16 of 38 three-pointers, but the game remained in the balance for anyone to win with 15 minutes to play.

The Panthers led 45-43, making 36 three-pointers. At that point, Pitt led 24-9, fueled by two foul shots and two layups, with a random 3-pointer from Henson in the middle of it. He missed part of that game after being benched with three fouls.

“We wanted to drive. We found something that was working for us, and we were able to go for it,” Capel said. “(Leggett) was able to get down the hill and make some plays to the basket. We just tried to take what the defense gave us.

True to his basketball nature, Henson showed no hesitation in shooting from distance, and several times only took baby steps across the half-court line.

“I always feel that way,” he said without a trace of shame.

After four games of a shooting slump when Pitt shot just 36.4% from the field, Pitt was 22 of 53 (41.9%), always with the go-ahead from the coach. Pitt hit 16 of 38 3-pointers while WVU was just 3 of 20 from long range.

“This is who we are,” Capel said. “I think we can shoot the basketball. That’s more than I think we can be. Most importantly, I think we did a great job moving the basketball and sharing it.”

“We want to give good shots and live with the results.”

Henson said he appreciated the rivalry in the Backyard Brawl, but the win was important for a key reason: Pete has lost three of his past four matches.

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He added: “It means a lot because we needed to win.

Jerry DePaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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