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Big East victory eludes Pitt again

| Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012

MILWAUKEE — Ashton Gibbs usually wants no part of any near-miss losses or so-called moral victories.

But after the Pitt senior guard scored a career-high 29 points and the free-falling Panthers fought No. 25 Marquette to the final buzzer on Saturday, Gibbs felt at least a bit encouraged.

"We still lost the game, but we were right there," he said. "If we just cut the stops and cut the turnovers, we're going to win some games."

The effort was a marked improvement from the embarrassing 23-point loss to Rutgers four days ago, and the Panthers' most complete game during a three-week losing skid that dropped them into last place in the Big East.

Still, a sloppy, turnover-plagued three-minute stretch of the second half was the difference, and Pitt fell to Marquette, 62-57, in front of 18,404 at Bradley Center.

"We did some really good things," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I'm proud of how hard we played, but we didn't get it done. ... We're not used to this. We've lost to some good teams. We've had some chances to win. This game we definitely had chances to win."

Pitt dropped to 0-5 in the Big East for only the second time in 30 years and saw its losing streak extended to six games, the program's longest since 1997-98.

The Panthers (11-7) led by as many as nine points in the first half and didn't trail until midway through the second half, when Marquette (14-4, 3-2) went on a turnover-fueled 13-0 run to take the lead for good.

Leading 41-36 with 12:30 to play, Pitt committed three turnovers in a 60-second span -- all by sophomore small forward Lamar Patterson -- as Marquette took a 45-41 lead. By the time the Panthers stopped throwing around the ball, the pressing Golden Eagles had gone ahead, 49-41, with 7:30 to go.

"I thought in the second half we were really good in a lot of ways," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I thought our full-court pressure did cause them some problems."

Gibbs, who returned to his natural shooting guard spot while Isaiah Epps made his first start at point guard, kept Pitt in it. Gibbs went 8 for 16 from the field, including a deep 3-pointer to cut Marquette's lead to 60-57 with 54 seconds to play.

But Marquette grabbed one of its eight second-half offensive rebounds off Jae Crowder's missed 3-pointer, and forward Davante Gardner hit two free throws with 18 seconds left for the 62-57 margin. John Johnson and Gibbs missed 3-pointers in the final seconds.

Gibbs, who scored more than half of Pitt's points, became the school's all-time leader with 261 3-pointers.

"I felt good," Gibbs said. "I felt good warming up before the game. I think I got my legs back, and I took it from there."

Pitt also looked more active on defense, playing a 2-3 zone for much of the game. The Panthers recorded a season-high 10 steals and forced 15 turnovers.

"I thought (the zone) was pretty good," Dixon said. "I thought it was better. Some good things."

But Pitt gave it back on offense, committing 10 of its 17 turnovers in the second half. Senior Nasir Robinson (10 points, seven rebounds) had a career-high seven turnovers and Patterson added four - all during a 3:25 span of the second half - for the traditionally sure-handed Panthers, who have averaged 16 turnovers in the past four games.

Dixon said there was no excuse for the sloppy play.

"It was something we had really worked on and talked about, and we just continued to make the same mistake play after play," he said.

Pitt will try to snap its losing streak in Monday's nationally televised game at top-ranked Syracuse (19-0, 6-0).

The Panthers are 8-1 against Syracuse in their past nine meetings, including five wins in a row at the Carrier Dome.

Dixon also was encouraged with the effort yesterday, but said it will take more to break his most frustrating streak in nine years at Pitt.

"Call it what you will, the losses are more than we've ever had," Dixon said. "So obviously our kids are very disappointed because they played very hard, they played well, but we did not play well enough to win."

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