GIBBS SHINES IN HOMECOMING AGAINST RUTGERS
Born and raised in New Jersey, Pittsburgh junior guard Ashton Gibbs returned home to the Garden State on Saturday and disappointed a raucous RAC on the Rutgers’ campus with a career-high 24 points as the Panthers escaped with a 65-62 win over the Scarlet Knights. Over 8,000 fans jammed the venerable venue creating a tremendous environment for a college basketball game.
“It was a great atmosphere, a great place to play,” said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. “The student section did a great job and I give them a hand for the energy and atmosphere they brought to the place.”
Much of that crowd was silenced by Gibbs who nearly single-handily kept the Panthers in the game throughout. Rutgers led 28-27 at the half as Gibbs scored 15 points in the opening half as his teammates struggled, shooting 2-15 from the floor.
Pitt seemed to begin to exert their power and strength in the second half, getting the ball inside to Gary McGhee, but the Scarlet Knights kept coming back. The Panthers would ease out to a six-point lead and several times would lead by 5, but Rutgers kept answering and closed within 58-57 with a Mike Coburn free throw.
However it was Gibbs who would hit the night’s biggest shot. With the shot clock winding down he connected on a three-pointer to push Pitt up by four with 55 seconds left.
“They find ways to win games,” said RU senior forward Jonathan Mitchell. “They got it to their best player and he made a big shot.”
Gibbs added a pair of foul shots to push the lead to 5, 63-58, but Coburn would add a pair of foul shots of his own and after forcing a travelling violation on an inbounds, Robert Lumpkins scored on a lay-up with 21 seconds left and once again RU cut the Pitt lead to one, 63-62. Pitt got the ball inbounds to senior Brad Wanamaker who calmly made a pair from the stripe to push the Pitt lead back to three.
The Panthers were 28-35 (80%) from the line in the game and made all eight of their attempts in the last 4:00.
Rutgers had one last chance to tie, but Pitt’s defense limited the Scarlet Knights to an off balance three from Dane Miller and Travon Woodall grabbed the rebound with 6 seconds left and Pitt was able to run out the clock.
“I wanted JB (James Beatty) to come around and shoot a three….They were face-guarding our main three point shooter, that’s very good scouting by them,” RU coach Mike Rice said. “That’s the small winning plays that sometimes people don’t recognize.”
Gibbs’ late three-pointer was Pitt’s only field goal in the game’s last seven minutes, although the Panthers were 12 of 14 from the line in that stretch.
“In a game like this pretty much every shot we make is going to be big for us. It was big and we showed some patience,” Dixon said of Gibbs’ three.
Besides Gibbs’ career-high matching 24, Gary McGhee also matched his career-high of 13 points and added 8 rebounds. Pitt outrebounded RU 39-30 in the game.
The Panthers finish their first half of the BIG EAST schedule at 8-1 and are the only conference team with one league loss. They are off until next Saturday when they host Cincinnati at the Peterson Events Center.
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