KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Ashton Gibbs and his Pitt teammates were in the process of blowing an eight-point lead in the final minute against Tennessee. A flagrant foul with possession of the ball and three front end misses of one-and-one opportunities gave the Volunteers a chance to tie the score or go ahead as the final seconds ticked away.
Gibbs, who is not known for his defense, made sure the Panthers didn't go home losers. He stepped up and made a great defensive play to preserve a 61-56 victory Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
After Dante Taylor missed the third one-and-one with 11 seconds remaining, Trae Golden dribbled up court. Gibbs got in front of him, grabbed the ball and tied him up for a whistle. The alternate possession belonged to the Panthers, and freshman John Johnson converted a three-point play at the other end to close out the contest.
"The ball was just in front of me," Gibbs said. "I just took advantage of what he gave me basically. I just made a play on the ball, and we got the win."
Gibbs was called for the flagrant foul with 55 seconds remaining and the Panthers leading, 58-50. Golden fouled Gibbs, but Gibbs' elbow made contact with Golden after he caught the ball.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon did not believe Gibbs intentionally tried to injure Golden, but he did not have a big problem with the decision because he knows NCAA officials are making flagrant fouls a point of emphasis this season.
The call led to a frantic final 55 seconds. Golden made one of two free throws, and Tennessee got the ball as a result of the foul. Cameron Tatum made a layup with 48 seconds left. After Lamar Patterson missed a one-and-one, Golden made a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to make it 58-56.
Taylor was fouled and missed a free throw for the second time in seven seconds to set up the dramatic final seconds.
"Everything that could go wrong in the final minute went wrong," Dixon said.
In the first game without point guard Tray Woodall, who is out for a month with an abdominal injury, Gibbs was 7 for 21 from the field and scored 16 points. Pitt clearly missed Woodall, the team's second-leading scorer and leader in assists.
But the answer to a stagnant offense was relentless pursuit of offensive rebounds, and Pitt grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, which led to 18 second-chance points. Nasir Robinson, who also scored 16, had nine offensive rebounds. As a team, Tennessee only had seven.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said Robinson's work on the boards was the difference in the game. "Pitt did a good job of attacking the glass. We've got to do a better job there. I thought Nasir Robinson did a great job dominating the game on the offensive glass."
Once again, Dixon got quality play from his reserves. Johnson scored eight points as did Taylor, who came off the bench for the second consecutive game.
The Panthers put together the type of effort needed to win on the road. They had just five turnovers, played better defense in the second half and made some big shots when they needed them.
"We finished plays," Gibbs said. "We played defense and we rebounded well. That's how you win on the road."
Gibbs missed 10 of his first 13 shots from the field but made three consecutive baskets to boost Pitt's lead to six points with 6:37 remaining.
"He played with a lot of confidence," Dixon said. "I think that spread to the team. We had who knows how many freshmen out there. His confidence spread to the team as the game went on."
Dixon played four freshmen. Redshirt freshman Cameron Wright started the first game of his career in place of Woodall. Freshman Khem Birch got his fourth consecutive start at center, and Johnson and redshirt freshman Isaiah Epps came off the bench.
Overall, the win was not the way Dixon drew it up, but he was enthused about the way his players managed to win one day after finding out the extent of Woodall's injury.
"Teams don't lose their point guard the game before and then go win a road in an SEC building where the [home team] doesn't lose many games," Dixon said. "People had probably written us off without Travon out there, but we found a way."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published December 4, 2011 5:00 AM