No. 12 Panthers edge Red Storm on road
Pittsburgh refused to let its latest loss turn into a losing streak
as it had twice before.
The No. 12 Panthers bounced back from a defeat to Notre Dame with a 71-64 victory against St. John's on Saturday.
"I was real happy with how we played, how we responded," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had a good practice Thursday and Friday even with the obstacles such as traveling."
The Panthers couldn't fly into New York because of the storm that hit the Northeast this week, so they drove 7½ hours and somehow didn't suffer any bus lag.
"Our offense was as good as it's been. We made good passes. We took good shots. Our offense is getting better," Dixon said. "We defended pretty well. There were some great performances from all our guys. It was a good team effort."
Coming off that 68-53 loss at Notre Dame that ended a four-game winning streak, Pittsburgh (22-7, 11-5) remained in the running for a double-bye in the Big East tournament.
The Panthers entered the game tied for third place with West Virginia (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) . The top four teams in the final standings begin play in the tournament quarterfinals.
Dixon didn't make it sound like as if that were something all the coaches were so concerned with, considering two of the top four lost in the quarterfinals last season.
"You would think on paper it would be a good thing but last year didn't turn out to be a good thing," Dixon said. "It's something the coaches have to talk about. On paper you would think so, but not everything on paper turns out the way you think."
Nasir Robinson scored 13 points, including Pittsburgh's first nine of the second half, to lead a balanced offense that saw all nine players who saw time score from 13 to three points.
"We believe everybody can play and step up when they're given the chance," said Robinson, who, with a 6.3 point average, is one of seven Panthers scoring between 16.2 and 5.1 points per game.
"I just came out trying to be aggressive and play my game," Robinson said of his scoring burst at the start of the second half. "I just felt confident and kept shooting. I knew I could take advantage."
The win gave the Panthers a 5-4 road record in the conference and improved their record at Madison Square Garden to 24-10 since 2000-01, including two Big East championships.
"We play hard and play defense at home so we just try to do it on the road, too," Robinson said.
Dwight Hardy had 15 points for the Red Storm (15-13, 5-11), who were playing their last home game of the season.
Pittsburgh led 31-23 at halftime and was never able to pull away from the Red Storm as it had in the last four meetings. The Panthers won those games by an average of 23.2 points, including a 63-53 victory on Jan. 28.
They lived up to their reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the conference. The Panthers came in leading the Big East in points allowed (61.6), were third in defensive field goal percentage (39.8) and fourth in 3-point percentage against (31.5).
The Red Storm managed 64 points with a late flurry but didn't reach either of the other figures, shooting 36.2 percent from the field (21 of 58) and 13.3 percent from beyond the arc (2 of 15).
"As bad as we were shooting we were still right in the game, pretty much the whole game," St. John's D.J. Kennedy said. "I definitely felt like we were right there. It's just, you got to make shots against a team like that."
Gilbert Brown also had 13 points and Ashton Gibbs added 12 for the Panthers, who shot 51.1 percent from the field (24 of 47).
"We executed our offense. We ran our offense pretty well today," said Pitt center Gary McGhee, who had six points and 10 rebounds. "We moved the ball around a lot. Everybody got a touch and we were able to get some easy shots on the inside."
Kennedy had all 12 of his points in the second half for the Red Storm, who dropped to 0-6 this season against ranked teams.
"We defended enough to keep the score down but you have to make shots, you have to make free throws against a good team," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "Pittsburgh is one of the toughest teams in the country to play against because they grind it out and don't let you back in it."
St. John's used four straight free throws -- a rare feat since the Red Storm shot 20 of 30 from the line -- to get within 47-40 with 10:23 left. Gibbs and Brown sandwiched 3-pointers around a basket by Justin Burrell to give the Panthers a 53-42 lead with 8:56 left. Their biggest lead of the second half was 66-54 with less than a minute to play.