PITTSBURGH (AP) -Pitt didn't need a miracle to beat Providence, a team that has won once since mid-January. The Panthers did need a game-winning play that was way beyond ordinary.
Ashton Gibbs found a way to make it.
The sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer several strides inside the midcourt line just ahead of the final buzzer and No. 17 Pittsburgh avoided being upset by Providence for the second successive season, rallying to win 73-71 on Thursday night.
``He's one of the best shooters in the country,' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. ``He can make shots. It was just a big-time shot. It was a play we worked on ... they knew how long 3.5 seconds were. He knew how much he could go (before shooting), how far he could go.'
The Panthers (23-7, 12-5) secured a double bye in next week's Big East tournament, overcoming sluggish stretches in each half as Gibbs scored 25 points and Jermaine Dixon had a career-high 24. Pitt still has a chance to be seeded No. 2 in the conference tournament.
Three weeks ago, Gibbs made two free throws with less than 12 seconds remaining to secure Pitt's 98-95 upset of then-No. 5 West Virginia after sending the game to overtime by making a 3-pointer.
``I'm always going to be confident with my shot,' Gibbs said. ``I just wanted to keep it (and take the shot). I've been in enough pressure-packed games to keep my composure in any type situation.'
Providence coach Keno Davis said the plan was to keep two defenders close to Gibbs but not to foul one of the nation's best free throw shooters.
``You don't want any body contact,' Davis said. ``The last thing you want is him going to the free throw line. You need to make him make a tough shot and we did - and he made it.'
Jamine Peterson had 24 points and 18 rebounds, but Providence (12-17, 4-13) lost its ninth straight and 11th in 12 games, failing to hold a 61-56 lead with nearly 7 minutes remaining.
The Panthers have won nine of 10 against the Friars, but lost 81-73 at Providence last season while ranked No. 1.
As the lead changed hands five times in the final 4 1/2 minutes, Pitt led 70-68 on Dixon's two free throws with 40.3 seconds to play, but Sharaud Curry answered with two foul shots 5 seconds later. Brian McKenzie put the Friars ahead 71-70 by making one of two at the line with 3.5 seconds to play, but that only set up a closely guarded Gibbs' long game-winner.
Curry added 16 points and Marshon Brooks had 13 for Providence, which played a ranked team for the seventh time in 10 games. The Friars haven't won in six road games since beating DePaul 79-62 on Jan. 14.
``We're not as good as Pittsburgh, they're definitely a top 20 team, but we're not too far away even though our record (isn't good),' Davis said.
The Panthers won their sixth in seven games since dropping four of five. Gibbs made 6 of 9 from 3-point range, where Pitt was 8 of 19 to Providence's 6 of 16.
Pitt went on a 15-1 run that included three baskets by Dixon and was finished off by a 3-pointer by Brad Wanamaker to lead 32-23 late in the first half after trailing by six points.
Dixon's previous career high was 21 points in Pitt's 82-72 upset of now-No. 1 Syracuse on Jan. 2.
``They want me to drive more to the basket - that's something I'm good at but I haven't been doing much of,' Jermaine Dixon said. ``I'll either get a layup or pass it to somebody else.'
The Panthers led 44-37 with 16:11 left, but Providence - the loser of 18 of 21 at Pitt - scored the next seven points to tie it.
The Friars - who came in 15th in the 16-team Big East - went ahead 61-56 as Vincent Council scored inside with 6:56 remaining, and seemed ready to pull off the upset mostly because Pitt could not contain the 6-foot-9 Peterson inside.
The game was especially low-scoring by Providence's standards. The Friars allowed 99 points in each of their previous two games and came in 332nd in scoring defense among the nation's 334 Division I schools, allowing an average of 81.2 points - 85.7 against Big East opponents.
Pitt, however, came in averaging 68.2 points and didn't get many more than that against a team that hadn't permitted fewer than 88 points in its previous four games - despite shooting 53.4 percent to the Friars' 41.3 percent.
Pitt needs a win over Rutgers and a Villanova loss to West Virginia on Saturday to be seeded No. 2 in the Big East tournament.
``I haven't thought about that,' Jamie Dixon said. ``I'm thinking about Rutgers.'
The Associated Press News Service
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