No. 4 Pitt exacts revenge on No. 9 'Nova
Jamie Dixon was impressed. Brad Wanamaker scored clutch baskets and Nasir Robinson was big on the boards, the kind of effort needed to win a feisty Big East battle.
''The Philly guys played like Philly guys,'' said Dixon, Pittsburgh's coach.
Thankfully for Dixon, those Philly guys were playing for the Panthers.
Wanamaker scored 21 points, Robinson had 15 and No. 4 Pittsburgh escaped with a 57-54 win over No. 9 Villanova on Saturday night.
It was a festive homecoming for Wanamaker and Robinson, two local players who shunned the Philadelphia schools and headed to Western Pennsylvania.
''We missed on both guys, no doubt,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ''They proved it tonight.''
The Panthers (23-2, 11-1 Big East) proved they remain the team to beat in the rugged Big East.
Pitt shows no sign of relinquishing its conference lead with six games left. They stormed into town and did what no team had done since Jan. 6, 2007 — beat the Wildcats in their on-campus home.
Antonio Pena tried to win it for Villanova (19-6, 7-5) in the final minute. He hit a three-pointer with 58 seconds left to make it a three-point game, then forced a turnover on Pitt's possession.
Dominic Cheek missed a tying three-point attempt and the offensive rebound was kicked out to Maalik Wayns. His shot swished through the net — a tick after the final buzzer.
There was one punch, three technical fouls and 50 shots from the free throw line.
Nasty fouls, nasty feelings.
''That was a classic Pitt-Villanova game,'' Wright said.
Each team had one less reliable long-range option with their top three-point shooters out.
The Panthers played without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, sidelined with a left knee injury. Corey Stokes walked into the Pavilion wearing a protective boot on his left foot because of turf toe and immediately declared himself out before hitting the locker room.
The Wildcats softened Stokes' status before the game but he never played. They missed one heck of a physical battle between the preseason picks to finish 1-2 in the Big East.
The Panthers appear headed toward a conference title while the Wildcats have all five league losses in the last eight games.
Tempers flared when Isaiah Armwood clocked Robinson in the face before placing his arm around Mouphtaou Yarou following a scuffle. Armwood was whistled for a technical foul.
The Panthers had a devastating counter punch — big baskets.
Travon Woodall hit Pitt's first three after seven misses to make it 37-34 and the Panthers ended a horrid shooting funk and stretched the lead to 46-36. The game turned on a tech and the Panthers never trailed again.
The nasty play continued when Corey Fisher, who fouled out with 4:50 left, crashed to the court on a driving layup attempt. Fisher and Robinson were whistled for technicals.
The Wildcats, who shoot 45 percent from the floor, made three baskets in the first 14 minutes of the second half.
''That's what we do, we defend, and we do it for 40 minutes,'' Dixon said.
Gilbert Brown stepped out of bounds in front of Pitt's bench and 'Nova capitalized. Wayns sped from the top of the three-point arc to the hoop for a basket and the free throw that made it 52-49.
Wanamaker silenced the 8-0 run with a three-point play, off a jumper at the free throw line, for some breathing room.
In a game between two of the six Big East teams ranked in the top 12, it fittingly came down to the last minute.
Pena, who injured his left ankle earlier in the half, nailed only his second three of the season with 58 seconds left to make it 57-54.
Pena stripped Wanamaker with 30 seconds left, giving the Wildcats the ball coming out of a timeout.
Cheek was short on a three-point attempt, the Wildcats got the ball back and Wayns nailed a three — right after the buzzer.
''We knew we had this game,'' said Wanamaker, Wayns' high school teammate. ''We didn't want to lose and we kept playing our best basketball.''
Yarou had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Villanova. Wayns scored 13.
The Wildcats ended a 46-game winning streak at the Pavilion that started Jan. 17, 2007. Fisher, Stokes and Pena finished their careers 41-1 in the building.
''It was fun. A hostile environment, no Ashton Gibbs and we got the win,'' Wanamaker said.
Without Stokes and Gibbs, each team struggled on threes: Villanova was 3 of 15 and Pitt 1 for 10.
It wasn't pretty inside, either.
The Panthers had only three field goals in the final seven minutes of the first half. Yarou blocked four shots and made the Panthers think twice about driving toward the bucket.
The Wildcats were almost as woeful and led 27-23 at the break.
Former Villanova star Randy Foye had his No. 2 jersey raised to the rafters at halftime. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard had a front-row seat for the game.