Pitt pounds St. John's in home finale at Petersen Events Center

| Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pitt has been here before. The Panthers followed a prolonged losing streak with a hope-building winning streak.

We saw it in late January. Maybe it can happen again in early March.

"We are playing as good of basketball as we've played all year," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We're just going to go forward from here and get ready for Saturday."

Hot-shooting Pitt snapped a five-game skid Wednesday night and will look to repeat its most recent rebound from a slump.

The Panthers blistered St. John's, 89-69, at Petersen Events Center to build some momentum heading into the final days of an all-but-lost season.

"We are definitely confident," said senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who scored a team-high 19 points. "Everybody is in the gym every day, trying to get better. Even though we have some losses this year, we still have a positive mindset, especially going into Saturday (at Connecticut) and going into the Big East Tournament. We've just got to carry this momentum and carry it forward."

In the final home game for Gibbs and Nasir Robinson, Pitt (16-14, 5-12 Big East) shook off its recent offensive struggles to shoot a season-high 63.3 percent while posting its most lopsided Big East victory of the season.

Pitt, which had averaged 49.7 points in the previous three games, showed some of the late-January swagger that helped turn an 0-7 Big East start into a four-game surge and talk of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

"It was a real good start," Robinson said. "We did a good job sharing the ball and getting a lot of guys involved."

Pitt can finish anywhere from 11th to 14th in the Big East heading into the regular-season finale Saturday at Connecticut (17-12, 7-10), the similarly struggling defending national champions. The Panthers open play in the Big East Tournament on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Pitt had four players in double figures — its most since it had five in an 84-81 loss at DePaul on Jan. 5 — and was led by Gibbs, who scored a team-high 19 points and received a standing ovation from the crowd of 9,449 when he left the court with less than a minute to play.

Junior center Dante Taylor was 8 for 8 from the field — mostly dunks — and finished with a career-high 17 points along with eight rebounds. Taylor, who scored 11 points in Sunday's loss at Louisville, has as many big double-figure scoring games in the past four days as his first 49 Big East games combined (two).

"I just tried to come in with confidence going into this game and the next game and, hopefully, carry it over to the tournament," Taylor said.

Said St. John's coach Mike Dunlap: "We're more light in the pockets, and he drove us underneath and got second shots."

J.J. Moore continued his surge with 14 points, and Lamar Patterson added 13 points and seven assists.

Pitt led short-handed St. John's (13-16, 6-11), which is the nation's youngest team and boasts five freshman starters, by as many as 23 points in the second half. The Panthers hit nine of their first 10 second-half attempts to turn a 38-33 halftime lead into a 67-44 edge.

St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison scored a game-high 21 points and broke Eric Barkley's school freshman scoring record of 500 points in 1998-99. Fellow freshman Moe Harkless missed five minutes in the first half with a right ankle injury and finished with a season-low four points.

St. John's forward Sir'Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett were a combined 2 of 13.

"I think we are defending better. I think we moved the ball better," Dixon said. "I don't think we've understood patience all year long. Maybe now is the time."

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