Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has called Ashton Gibbs the hardest-working player he has coached. Time after time, when no one else remains in the gym, Gibbs stays to work on his game, getting up shot after shot, preparing for just the situation that presented itself Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Down by one with 3.5 seconds on the clock, Gibbs received an inbounds pass from Gilbert Brown, dribbled across midcourt and drilled a 25-footer to give the Panthers a 73-71 victory against Providence.
In a season of memorable home contests that came down to last-minute heroics, Gibbs again was the hero. The sophomore guard who staged late heroics against Louisville and West Virginia scored a game-high 25 points and made six 3-pointers against the Friars.
"They backed off a little bit, but that's what you expect," Gibbs said of the final play. "I just wanted to be aggressive with it. It felt good as soon as I let it go."
Brian McKenzie had given the Friars the lead with 3.5 seconds remaining. McKenzie was fouled by Jermaine Dixon under the Pitt basket after a Brad Wanamaker shot rimmed out with six seconds remaining.
Pitt practices last-second shots every day at practice. Gibbs said he usually passes the ball off to teammates in those end-of-game practice situations, but he was forced to take the shot because of the amount of time left on the clock.
"It was a great shot by Ashton," Jamie Dixon said. "It was a big-time shot, a big-time play. It's a play that we have worked on. The key was they knew how much time 3.5 seconds was. That was the key thing. He's the right guy you want in that situation."
Gibbs made a 3-pointer to tie the score near the end of regulation to send the West Virginia game into overtime. Pitt eventually won that game in triple overtime. He also made a pivotal 3-pointer in overtime to help the Panthers beat Louisville.
"Someone asked me the other day who would I want taking a last shot, and I definitely said Ashton," Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon said. "He's a great 3-point shooter, a great pull-up shooter. You definitely want Ashton taking the shot in that situation."
With the victory, No. 17 Pitt (23-7, 12-5) clinched a double bye at the Big East tournament next week. The Panthers will not have to play until the quarterfinal round Thursday.
Pitt can finish as high as second place and be the No. 2 seed in the tournament. If the Panthers win their regular-season finale against Rutgers Saturday afternoon, and West Virginia beats Villanova, Pitt will be the No. 2 seed. If Pitt and Villanova win, the Panthers will be the No. 3 seed.
Pitt, winners of seven of its past eight games, are 16-1 at home this season. The Panthers have won 37 of their past 38 games at the Petersen Events Center.
Providence (12-17, 4-13) has lost nine consecutive games and fell to 3-19 all time against Pitt in games played in Pittsburgh.
Jermaine Dixon and Wanamaker each had double-doubles. Dixon had a career-high 24 points and 12 rebounds. Wanamaker had 10 points and 13 assists.
Jamine Peterson led Providence with 24 points.
Providence was in position to win because the Panthers played a sloppy game. They committed 15 turnovers and allowed the Friars to shoot 48 percent from the field in the second half.
Pitt led, 44-37, but Providence ripped off seven consecutive points to tie tied the score with 13:41 left remaining when Marshon Brooks scored off a Wanamaker turnover. Brooks capitalized again off another Wanamaker turnover a little more than a minute later to give Providence its first lead since six minutes remained in the first half.
The Friars extended their lead to 59-54 with 8:26 remaining after a Sharaud Curry 3-pointer and a Peterson bucket.
It was nip and tuck the rest of the way. Pitt trimmed the lead to two twice over the next several minutes and took a 66-65 lead when Wanamaker made a 3-pointer with 4:16 remaining.
Providence regained the lead when McKenzie scored after a Jermaine Dixon turnover. Pitt took the lead again when Wanamaker made a jumper to make it 68-67 with 3:12 remaining.
Peterson tied the score by making one free throw with 2:22 left.
Jermaine Dixon gave Pitt a 70-68 lead with 40 seconds remaining. He had a chance for a 3-point play, but missed the free throw.
Curry then drove to the hoop and was fouled with 35 seconds left. He made both free throws.
Pitt held the ball for the last shot. Wanamaker drove into the lane and missed a short jumper. McKenzie rebounded and was fouled by Jermaine Dixon.
"We sure like to keep things interesting," Jamie Dixon said. "We've given our season ticket-holders their money's worth this season."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published March 5, 2010 5:00 AM