Basketball: Panthers win big during final home game

By Lauren Kirschman

With just one game left in the regular season, the Pitt men’s basketball team is finally… With just one game left in the regular season, the Pitt men’s basketball team is finally learning patience.

The Panthers — who failed to reach 40 percent shooting from the field during their five-game losing streak — cruised to an 89-69 victory at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday night by passing the ball well and waiting for open looks against St. John’s match-up zone.

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon attributed the team’s improved shooting percentage to that improved shot selection.

“I think it’s patience is what we’ve been preaching, and I thought we showed patience in our last game against Louisville,”  Dixon said. “I think we were making the simple pass — the right pass — more times tonight. We put ourselves in a position to win.”

Pitt senior Ashton Gibbs broke out of his scoring slump in his final home game, scoring 19 points on 7-18 shooting, including 3-8 from the 3-point line. He hadn’t made a 3-point shot in the Panthers’ last three games.

“I think he did less off the dribble and just caught and shot which is something we’ve been emphasizing with him,” Dixon said. “Our ball movement was good, our half-court offense was very good.”

Gibbs was one of four Panthers to reach double figures, including center Dante Taylor who scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He said his aggressive inside carried over from Pitt’s loss to Louisville.

Sophomore J.J. Moore provided an offensive spark when the Panthers struggled to score in their last three contests. He reached double figures for the fourth consecutive game with 14 points against St. John’s and shot 3-6 from the field, including 3-4 from beyond the arc.

“It starts with my teammates,” Moore said. “I feed off of them. They told me to keep shooting … so that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m in the gym more working on my shot and my teammates all have confidence in me and I have confidence in my shot.”

Redshirt sophomore Lamar Patterson added 13 points. Dixon said he believes the Panthers are playing the best basketball they have all season. topping their performances during a four-game winning streak that brought wins over Providence, Georgetown, West Virginia and Villanova.

Dixon added that he thought the team played well in its 57-54 loss at Louisville on Sunday.

Senior Nasir Robinson — who also played his final game at the Petersen Events Center — said Pitt got off to a good start in building momentum for the Big East tournament that starts Tuesday.

But Gibbs stressed that the Panthers will focus on their regular-season game against Connecticut on Saturday before turning their attention to the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

“We got to do a better job of just being consistent,” Gibbs added. “I think we had a great week in practice and it carried over.”

After shooting 58.3 percent in the first half, the Panthers stayed hot after halftime, improving to 68 percent and coming out of the break on a 16-5 run to build a 54-39 lead. Pitt went 6-6 from the field through the first six minutes of the second half before Patterson missed a layup.

St. John’s went on a 9-0 run midway through the second half to trim the 70-48 Pitt advantage to 13 points, but the Panthers responded by pushing the lead back to 20 points, 84-64, with 3:16 left in the game.

Pitt outscored St. John’s 51-36 in the second half and Dixon said the Panthers played good defense even though St. John’s shot 50 percent from the field for the game.

“I think we’re defending better,” Dixon said. “I thought we defended well today, they made tough shots.”

Patterson hit a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in the first half to put Pitt ahead 38-33 going into the break. Pitt outrebounded the Red Storm 31-17 in the game, including 14-9 in the first half.

“I thought in many ways, going into halftime, given what Pitt had done to us, we were lucky to be in the game with the disparity on the glass,” St. John assistant coach Mike Dunlap said.

D’Angelo Harrison led St. John’s with 21 points, while Phil Greene and God’s Gift Achiuwa added 18 and 17 points, respectively. Freshman Moe Harkless was held to a season-low four points. Dixon said the team wanted to play well for Gibbs, Robinson and walk-on Nick Rivers, who also played his final home game. Rivers scored on a free throw with 25 seconds left in the game.

“A lot of memories,” Gibbs said of his time at Pitt. “We had a lot of great teams. Even though this is a tough year, I have a lot of good memories here. It starts with the fans. That’s one of the reasons I came here.”