PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ashton Gibbs shook off a recent slump to score 19 points in his final home game as Pittsburgh snapped a five-game losing streak with an 89-69 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night.
Dante Taylor had a career-high 17 points while making all eight of his shots and JJ Moore added 14 for the Panthers (16-14, 5-12 Big East), who shot a season-best 63.3 percent (31 of 49) from the floor.
D’Angelo Harrison led St. John’s with 21 points and Phil Greene had 18 but the Red Storm (13-17, 6-11) couldn’t pull off a fourth straight win with its freshmen-laden lineup. St. John’s upset Notre Dame last Saturday by shutting down the Irish, yet failed to play with the same intensity on the road.
Pitt opened the second half with a 14-4 run to break it open and cruised from there.
It was the kind of game the Panthers expected more of this season, but the defending Big East champions have stumbled all winter. The Panthers have struggled mightily to score points in conference play, coming in ranked in the bottom three in the 16-team league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and points per game.
For a night, at least, those concerns disappeared.
Pitt hit six of its first eight shots behind a quick start from the struggling Gibbs. The preseason Big East player of the year has looked lost at times recently, scoring a total of 14 points in Pitt’s last three games.
He threw in a pair of early 3s in his final game at the Petersen Events Center, though the Red Storm did its best to keep pace despite its youth-laden roster that includes five freshmen starters.
Harrison knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half as St. John’s kept it close until just before the break. Pitt scored the final four points of the half to take a 38-33 lead and for once the Panthers didn’t let up.
Playing with the kind of emotion it has lacked at times during the program’s toughest season in over a decade, Pitt poured it on, making nine of its first 10 field goals to start the half. Taylor pounded his chest after a follow dunk put Pitt up 56-42, the big man showing glimpses of the kind of play that was expected all year.
The lead eventually ballooned all the way to 24 before the Red Storm used its press to rattle the Panthers, cutting it to 74-62 with just over 5 minutes to go before Gibbs knocked down a jumper and Tray Woodall hit an acrobatic lay-up to lift Pitt out of danger.
It was an encouraging way to end a miserable season. The Panthers need to win the Big East tournament to have any shot at qualifying for the NCAAs but they’re almost certain to at least play in the NIT after guaranteeing they’ll finish the season with a .500 record at worst.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)