The fourth-ranked Panthers overcame an awful start by shooting 61 percent from the field in the second half and beat No. 25 West Virginia 71-66 on Monday night.
|More on Pitt-WVU|
|Pittsburgh and Kansas both make their cases for a No. 1 seed on the same night. Read More >>|
|Blog: Eye on College Basketball|
Without Gibbs, the Panthers' leading scorer (16.3) who is out up to two weeks with a left knee injury, Pittsburgh had little outside shooting presence -- and it didn't matter. The Panthers, who lead the nation in rebounding margin, outrebounded West Virginia 40-28 on the strength of 18 offensive boards.
"We really focused on rebounding," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We cut down their offensive rebounds. We won with our rebounding and defense and that's what we set out to do."
From start to finish, Pittsburgh pounded the ball inside, piling up 42 points in the paint against a Mountaineers defense that eventually wore down.
Nasir Robinson scored 15 points, Gary McGhee had 13, Travon Woodall added 12 and Brad Wanamaker scored 11 for the Panthers (22-2, 10-1 Big East).
"Ashton is a good player and a great shotmaker for us and without him, we just wanted to come out and play our game," Wanamaker said. "We didn't want to try and fill in his shoes. We just wanted to stay with Pitt basketball and get the guys that sub in to play their game."
Pittsburgh went hard to the glass after being held to a season-low 23 points in the first half. The Panthers went ahead to stay with eight minutes left in the game to improve to 5-0 on the road in the Big East and continue their best overall start in conference play.
This is the 10th consecutive season Pitt has won at least 20 games overall and at least 10 in the Big East, the conference's longest current streak.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins had pointed to the Pittsburgh game as a possible jump start to a solid final month of the Big East race. Instead, the Mountaineers' shortcomings showed and West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) has now lost three of its past five.
"They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it," Huggins said. "They just outmanned us."
Huggins said without Gibbs, "they just attack the rim."
In the first half, "we converged on the guys that were driving," Huggins said.
The second half was another matter.
Pittsburgh had only three turnovers after halftime, shot 61 percent (17 of 28) from the field in the second half and 44 percent for the game.
Deniz Kilicli scored a career-high 19 points and Kevin Jones added 12 for the Mountaineers, but West Virginia's bench outscored its starters 34-32.
West Virginia guard Casey Mitchell played 24 minutes in a backup role after being reinstated a game earlier from an indefinite suspension, but he wasn't much help. The Mountaineers' leading scorer was limited to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
West Virginia was aching for any kind of offense after managing a season-low 50 points in Saturday's loss at No. 9 Villanova and Kilicli provided it.
He scored on a left-handed baby hook and made a three-point play 25 seconds apart to bring West Virginia within 59-58 with 4:03 remaining.
Gilbert Brown made a layup and a three-point play during Pittsburgh's ensuing 12-4 run. Robinson's dunk with 19 seconds left capped the run and put Pittsburgh ahead 71-62.
"They threw the first punch today," Wanamaker said. "We settled down a little and came back in the second half and made some plays, penetrated and got guys open looks."
West Virginia scored eight of the game's first 10 points, fell behind only once before halftime and held the Panthers to one field goal over the final five minutes of the half. Pittsburgh shot 29 percent (9 of 31) from the field and trailed 25-23 at halftime.
Despite all that, Dixon said he told his players at halftime that the Panthers were "in good shape. We're going to run great stuff and get great shots and that's what we did."
"We got layups, we got drives and we got offensive rebound opportunities because of our offensive execution and efficiency," Dixon said. "Ashton wasn't playing and I think we really got the message out to our guys in the last 24 hours when we found out he wasn't going to play. We didn't have to have anybody step up. We just had to play the way we have to play and execute."
The Panthers matched their first-half output in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
Woodall, Gibbs' replacement, put the Panthers ahead to stay, 47-46, on a jumper with 8:16 remaining.
But like most games in the Backyard Brawl, West Virginia managed to stay close until the Panthers' decisive run.