Commentary

Ashton Gibbs at home at the Garden

Jersey native leads Pitt past Texas -- and shows NYC hoops fans what they're missing

Updated: November 20, 2010, 9:46 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- In the second half of a championship game at Madison Square Garden -- albeit a November championship game -- a local kid took over.

Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs -- the team's leading scorer last season, and again this season -- had been having a quiet night. He came in averaging 17.8 points per game, but had only five in the first half Friday.

With 15:03 remaining, No. 4 Pitt led No. 22 Texas by the slimmest of margins, 39-38 after a Longhorns 3-pointer.

[+] EnlargeAshton Gibbs
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIAshton Gibbs scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half.

Then Gibbs knocked down a 3-pointer of his own. Followed by a couple free throws ... followed by a jumper ... followed by another 3. In a span of 119 seconds, interrupted by two Texas free throws, Gibbs rattled off 10 Pittsburgh points.

"I just knew that it was time," Gibbs said. "It was time to step up."

The Panthers now led 49-40 -- but the Longhorns had another run left in them. Texas narrowed the margin to a single point once more, 63-62. Pittsburgh had possession, with less than 90 seconds left.

Take a guess who took the shot -- and buried it.

Gibbs nailed another 3-pointer -- the biggest shot of the game -- to propel Pittsburgh to a 68-66 win in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship game.

Gibbs, who finished with a team-high 24 points on the night, was named the tournament's most valuable player. Not bad for a kid from Scotch Plains, N.J., who played his high school ball at Seton Hall Prep.

"It was great to do it in front of a home crowd, and in a city like New York," Gibbs said. "This is where I dreamed of playing all my life. Just to do it here, hit a couple big shots, is a good feeling."

After knocking off two quality teams in two days here (they defeated Maryland in the semifinals on Thursday), the Panthers continued their outstanding run at The World's Most Famous Arena. Pitt won the Big East tournament title here in 2003 and 2008, and has made the Big East championship game in seven of the past 10 seasons. The Panthers are now 26-11 at the Garden since the 2000-01 season, and have won 14 of their past 19 games here.

Perhaps Pitt's habit of importing New York-area players has something to do with that success. Coach Jamie Dixon has several on this season's roster, in addition to Gibbs. Among them are reserve guard Travon Woodall (from Brooklyn), who had seven points and five assists Friday night and was also named to the all-tournament team; and reserve forward Dante Taylor (Greenburgh, N.Y.) who chipped in four points and three rebounds.

"A lot of our guys are from the metropolitan area," Gibbs said. "So we had a lot of fans here, and we showed 'em."

They'll be back in town, in this very arena, on Feb. 19 when they take on St. John's. Pitt will be favored; the Panthers are the preseason pick to win the Big East, after all. We'll see if St. John's has more success against them under new coach Steve Lavin.

And, we'll see if Lavin can convince some of these homegrown stars to cross Pitt off their list and stay in town in the years to come.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
Follow Kieran on Twitter »

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