Men’s basketball: Panthers win Big East title on senior day

By Alex Oltmanns

For the members of the Pitt men’s basketball senior class, the regular season finale on… For the members of the Pitt men’s basketball senior class, the regular season finale on Saturday was a fitting end to their careers in a Panthers uniform.

With the 60-50 win over No. 19 Villanova (21-10, 9-9 Big East) at the Petersen Events Center, the No. 5 Panthers (27-4, 14-3 Big East) earned the Big East regular season championship and a No. 1 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament.

“To be able to come out and play like this, this season  it’s a great feeling, especially to come out of the Big East regular season,” senior forward Gilbert Brown said in a post-game news conference.

Seniors Gary McGhee, Brad Wanamaker, Nick Rivers and Brown ended the regular season in a way that can define their Pitt careers-winning.

As a class they own an 80.1 percent career winning percentage, 109 total victories and 51 wins in Big East games, the most ever in a four year span at Pitt.

“I’m very excited for our whole team, the seniors especially,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the news conference. “Obviously to end it with an outright Big East Championship on senior night, you can’t do it much better than that.”

After a slow first half that ended with a 22-18 Pitt lead and saw neither team shoot above 40 percent from the field, the Panthers elevated their play in the second half.

The Panthers knew they would have to stay patient against a Villanova team who tried to keep the game close by holding the ball on offense to limit the number of possessions Pitt could have.

”We did a good job of containing them,” McGhee said in the news conference. “They were running the clock out and we just did a great job of getting stops and getting rebounds.”

After Villanova pulled ahead 25-24 on an Antonio Pena jump shot with just under four minutes into the half, the Panthers seemed to gain a sense of urgency.

Ashton Gibbs finished the game with a team-high 18 points and his 3-pointer with 6:58 remaining gave Pitt a 43-32 lead to cap a 14-2 Panthers run.

The game seemed to be in hand at that point, but two Maalik Wayns 3-pointers pulled the Wildcats within five points. Waayns finished the game with 27 points.

“He didn’t give up and he wasn’t afraid to look bad,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Wayns in the news conference.

But the Panthers once again pulled away, this time behind strong free-throw shooting as they went 15-16 from the line in the final four minutes.

They finished the game 23-26 from the free throw line.

The game also marked a personal milestone for Brown, who scored his 1,000 career point on a 3-pointer with 9:12 left in the game.

“It was a great feeling, especially along with this regular season championship all in one day, it’s something I can’t even describe,” Brown said.

While all of the regular season accolades are nice, the Panthers know the real test lies ahead of them in the postseason, where they will begin play on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament.

“We realize that it’s just the first checkpoint at what we want to do this year,” Wanamaker said in the news conference. “After tonight we’re going to get focused on New York and what we have to do there.”