N.J. native lifts No. 2 Pitt over Rutgers

Updated: January 30, 2011, 1:44 AM ET
By Mike Mazzeo | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Pittsburgh junior guard Ashton Gibbs grew up 25 minutes from the Louis Brown Athletic Center in nearby Scotch Plains.

Leave it to the hometown kid to stick the dagger in the hearts of the home crowd.

Gibbs' deep 3-pointer with four seconds left on the shot clock and 58 seconds remaining proved to be the knockout punch, as No. 2 Pitt prevailed in a defensive heavyweight bout over upset-minded Rutgers 65-62 on Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeAshton Gibbs
AP Photo/Mel EvansAshton Gibbs made the most of his return to New Jersey.
"I had lots of family and friends in the stands," said Gibbs, who finished with a game-high 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting and 6-for-6 from the free throw stripe. "It really felt good. But the main thing is, we got the win."

The Scarlet Knights (12-9, 3-6 Big East) had the Panthers (20-2, 8-1) on the ropes the entire evening, stifling Pitt with their switching, man-to-man defense. But Pitt was able to escape with the win because its big-time player made a big-time shot.

Gibbs, who played his high school basketball at Seton Hall Prep, was standing at least five feet beyond the arc -- right in front of his team's bench -- when he caught a Gary McGhee pass and confidently let one fly from the left wing with the Panthers clinging to a 58-57 lead.

Had he missed, Rutgers would've had a chance to take the lead.

But he didn't miss.

He wasn't going to.

Not on this night.

"I just tried to move without the ball. Get to an open area," Gibbs said. "And Gary did a good job of just finding me. I just had to take advantage of what the defense gave me. It was a deep shot, but I know the shot clock was winding down so I had take it. I was confident, so it went in."

And all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, with their team down by four, the cheers from 8,024 raucous Rutgers fans had turned into groans.

"That's why he's a preseason first-team all-league player," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said dejectedly.

Rice was dejected because his resilient team had thrown everything it had at the Panthers, and then some, holding the nation's 18th-best scoring offense to just 35.6 percent shooting.

And yet, in the end, it wasn't enough.

The Scarlet Knights had a chance to tie on their last possession, but sophomore forward Dane Miller's 3-pointer rimmed off the back iron. Just like that, their hopes of snapping their 0-for-15 streak against top-2 teams had vanished.

"Someone has to be our Ashton Gibbs," Rice said.

The problem is, no one was.

"In a game like this, every shot is gonna be big," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said.

So is each half.

And that's what made Gibbs even more valuable.

In the first half, Gibbs went 5-for-9 from the field. The rest of his teammates shot a combined 2-for-15, yet the Panthers went to the locker room trailing by one.

"In the first half, Ashton did a good job of being aggressive and getting some good shots," said McGhee, who had 13 points and eight rebounds of his own. "We were able to run some plays for him. He was aggressive of getting the ball into the paint and getting layups. He helped us stay in the game."

And then, with the game hanging in the balance, the Jersey kid fueled them to victory.

What a homecoming.

Just the way he drew it up.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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