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Pitt seeks elusive Big East Tournament victory at Madison Square Garden

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By John Grupp
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

At least one of Pitt's preseason goals is still within close reach.

No one on the Pitt roster has won a game in the Big East Tournament. So while five wins in five days is the ultimate goal, the seniors have a more basic drive.

One win.

"For me and Ashton (Gibbs), this game is really important, just getting our first win," Nasir Robinson said. "It's going to be big for us."

No. 13 seeded Pitt (16-15) will try for the elusive win against No. 12 seed St. John's (13-18) at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Pitt needs to run the table to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and extend its streak of 10 years in a row, the seventh-longest run in the nation.

But the Panthers are focused on the Red Storm, who they routed, 89-69, while shooting a season-best 63 percent Wednesday to snap a five-game losing streak.

"I think we know what we have to do," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We need to play well (today), and that's our number one focus. We haven't even talked about what's down the road, because there's too many things we need to focus on."

Some other teams standing in the way are fifth-seeded Georgetown, which Pitt beat, 72-60, on Jan. 28; and No. 4 seed Cincinnati, which edged the host Panthers, 66-63, on New Year's Day.

No. 1 seed Syracuse, No. 8 West Virginia and defending champion and No. 9 seed Connecticut, the motivation for Pitt's five-day run, lurk in the top half of the bracket.

"There are no mistakes now," Pitt point guard Tray Woodall said. "All of the margin for error we had during the season, there's no room for that now. There are no excuses. There's no tomorrow. We've got to get it done."

Added Gibbs: "It's now or never. We are going to be ready from the jump."

Gibbs and Robinson are 0-3 in the 16-team event, losing as No. 2 seeds to West Virginia in 2009 and Notre Dame in 2010, and Connecticut as the No. 1 seed last year on Kemba Walker's step-back buzzer-beater.

"It's a new season," Robinson said. "We've got a new attitude, a new record. Everyone has the same goal."

The Panthers are coming off a near-miss, 74-65 loss at UConn in which they erased a 14-point halftime deficit to take a one-point lead in the final 2:50. The players were confident as they loaded an airport-bound chartered bus Monday afternoon following a light practice.

"I've got my bags packed for seven days," NYC native Woodall said, "because after we win the whole thing, I'm trying to go home and see my family."

St. John's is 4-7 at the Garden this season but has victories over WVU and Notre Dame. In the loss to Pitt last week, forward Moe Harkless, named to the Big East all-rookie team along with teammate D'Angelo Harrison, turned his ankle in the first half and finished with a season-low four points. He returned to play all 40 minutes (eight points, 11 rebounds) in a 61-58 loss to Rutgers on Saturday.

Panthers gameday

Big East first-round game

No. 13 Pitt vs. No. 12 St. John's

When/where: 2 p.m. Tuesday/Madison Square Garden

On air: ESPN2/KDKA-FM (93.7)

Records: Pitt 16-15; St. John's 13-18

Series: St. John's leads, 34-22

Line: Pitt by 5.5

Of note: This is the teams' first meeting in the Big East Tournament in 17 years.

Players to watch

Pitt: Ashton Gibbs, Sr., G — Scored a team-high 19 points against St. John's on Feb. 29.

St. John's: Phil Greene, Fr., G — Had 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and seven assists in the 89-69 loss to Pitt.

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