NEW YORK (AP) — Pittsburgh’s season has been unlike any of its recent ones, so why shouldn’t the Panthers get the Big East tournament off to a different start?
Ashton Gibbs scored 20 points to lead Pittsburgh to a 73-59 victory over St. John’s on Tuesday in the opening round of the Big East tournament.
The Panthers had been the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the last three Big East tournaments. Trouble was they left New York after one game all three times. This year they came in as the No. 13 seed and they get to stay around for at least one more game.
“I think we’ve gotten better the last couple of weeks and it’s a good sign as we go forward here,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’ve got to defend and I think we did that today and we’ll continue to do that as we go forward tomorrow.”
Gibbs scored the first seven points of a 13-2 run to close the first half that gave Pittsburgh a 33-28 lead. Nasir Robinson scored on a rebound to give the 13th-seeded Panthers a 43-32 lead with 15:07 left and the Red Storm were never closer than nine points the rest of the game.
Robinson went 6 of 6 from the field and scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half for the Panthers (17-15), who play fifth-seeded and 13th-ranked Georgetown in the second round on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
Robinson, who was 7 for 10 overall, entered the game third in the conference shooting 56.2 percent from the field.
Gibbs, a senior, sees this tournament a lot differently than the first three he played in.
“The past three years we had a lot more success during the regular season,” he said. “But it was a good win for us today. It started on the defensive end and we let it carry to the offense. We did a good job of moving the ball and it’s something we’ve just got to continue to do throughout the tournament.”
Moe Harkless had 25 points for the 12th-seeded Red Storm (13-19), who closed the season with three straight losses, one of them an 89-69 defeat at Pittsburgh six days ago. It was the most points scored by a St. John’s player in the tournament since Marcus Hatten had 25 against Notre Dame in 2002.
“I think we like to play a fast-paced game but I think when the pace switched we were rushing a little bit,” Harkless said of the run that closed the half. “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, I think we would have been able to overcome that hump.”
The Panthers came into this tournament having lost six of seven, the only win the blowout of St. John’s.
“The difference between the first time we played Pitt and the second was that we were able to rebound with them a little better but we weren’t able to finish at the rim,” said St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap who ran the team with head coach Steve Lavin recovering from prostate cancer surgery in October. “The story was we had plenty of good looks, we just couldn’t finish them.”
The Red Storm shot just 33 percent for the game (22 of 66, including 2 of 11 from 3-point range). They came into the game last in the 16-team conference in 3-point shooting at 28.4 percent.
Pittsburgh shot 45.1 percent for the game (23 of 51, including 8 of 23 from 3-point range with Gibbs going 4 of 9).
D’Angelo Harrison added 12 points and 10 rebounds for St. John’s but he missed all six of his 3-point attempts. God’sgift Achiuwa had 12 rebounds for the Red Storm, who dropped to 5-7 this season with their all-freshmen starting lineup.
St. John’s had won its first game in the last three Big East tournaments.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)