Men’s Basketball: Pitt defeats St. John’s in Big East tournament first round

By Lauren Kirschman

Pitt’s seniors picked up their first-career Big East tournament win on Tuesday, but the men’s… Pitt’s seniors picked up their first-career Big East tournament win on Tuesday, but the men’s basketball team will need four more victories to earn an NCAA Tournament bid this season.

Before this season, Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson had only played for squads that received a double bye through the first two rounds in Madison Square Garden. Those teams already had NCAA Tournament bids wrapped up — but those teams also never won a game in Madison Square Garden.

This season, with March Madness dreams on the line, the No. 13-seeded Panthers defeated 12th-seeded St. John’s 73-59 to advance to the second round of the Big East tournament. St. John’s lost its first game in the Big East tournament for the first time in three years.

“It’s definitely a little weird,” Gibbs said of earning his first win in the conference tournament. “Especially the past three years we had a lot more success in the regular season. It was a good win for us today, it started on the defensive end and [we] let it carry to the offensive end.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said the Panthers defended well and performed good enough on the boards — Pitt out-rebounded the Red Storm 40-39. Much like the two teams’ first meeting — an 89-69 Pitt win on Feb. 29 — the Panthers remained patient offensively and took apart St. John’s’ matchup zone.

“We moved the ball pretty well in both games we played against them,” Dixon said. “We had 10 guys out there giving us good minutes and that’s something we’re going to need.”

While Pitt did turn the ball over 13 times against St. John’s’ press, Dixon said the Panthers took good shots once they broke through and didn’t rush their offense.

Pitt used a balanced scoring attack to pull away from the Red Storm in the second half. Gibbs scored a team-high 20 points while Robinson added 15 points and eight rebounds.

Robinson, who has battled with a knee injury all season, said he felt good after the game.

“Throughout the season, I’ve been struggling with it, doing what I can with my time,” he said. “Toward the end of the year it’s been feeling good. I’ve been doing what I can with my trainer.”

Five other Panthers scored more than five points. Lamar Patterson scored nine points, while John Johnson and J.J. Moore each added eight points off the bench. Dante Taylor finished with six points and Travon Woodall also scored six points while dishing out six assists.

“I think we are about as healthy as we’ve been,” Dixon said. “We have everybody available.”

After falling behind by six points, 26-20, with 5:15 left in the first half, the Panthers rallied back to close the half on an 13-2 run and take a 28-33 lead into the break. St. John’s freshman Maurice Harkless said that the Red Storm started to rush their offense during that period.

“A lot of shots that we took during that time were bad shots and I think if we would have slowed down and took our time … we would have been able to overcome that hump,” he said.

Gibbs produced for the Panthers in the first half, scoring 15 points while shooting 4-9 from the field, including 3-7 from the 3-point line. Freshmen Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison scored 21 of the Red Storm’s 28 first half points.

The Panthers continued to stretch their lead after the break, starting the second half with a 7-0 scoring run to stretch their advantage to double digits, 43-32. St. John’s never recovered as Pitt cruised to its second-consecutive double digit win over the Red Storm.

Several Red Storm players appeared visibly frustrated some foul calls during the game and Harkless addressed the issue after the loss.

“I think we didn’t get a lot of calls that were clearly fouls,” he said. “But you’ve just got to keep playing through it and you can’t really worry about it too much and not worry about what the refs call and just play the game.”

Harkless finished with 25 points for St. John’s and D’Angelo Harrison added 12 points. Harkless finished 10-16 from the field while the rest of the team shot 12-50.

“He’s a good player. Real skilled,” Robinson said of Harkless. “I just wanted to make him shoot tough shots.”

The Panthers will need to pick up a win tomorrow over No. 5-seed Georgetown — another team they beat during the regular season — in order to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Gibbs said that a run to the championship is a possibility for his team.

“Just take it one game at a time,” he said. “Worry about our next game and keep going.”