Pitt got off to an ugly start—shooting just 35 percent from the field in the game's first 12 minutes. They responded with 26 points in the final eight minutes of the first half, on their way to a 79-70 win over Villanova. Pitt has now won four in a row, and improves to 15-9 on the season, 4-7 in the Big East, and in a logjam—tied for tenth place in the conference standings.
Pitt was led by a career-high 29 points from Travon Woodall, who was coming off a 24-point performance at West Virginia on Monday night. Ashton Gibbs added 25 points, his eighth 20-point game of the season. Both players also combined to go 19-for-19 from the free throw line, which was a big factor in the game's final minutes.
Dante Taylor came off the bench with nine points for Pitt, while Talib Zanna led the team with eight rebounds. Mouphtaou Yarou had a game-high 14 rebounds, and despite the loss, all members of Villanova's starting five finished in double figures. Maalik Wayns, despite going 1-for-10 from three-point range—led the Wildcats with 18 points. Dominic Cheek added 13 points, followed by Yarou with 12, and Jayvaughn Pinkston and James Bell with ten points apiece.
"Two great teams, battling hard and rebounding," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "Travon and Ashton were terrific, especially knocking down free throws. We had a great performance from J.J. Moore, John Johnson and Cameron Wright (off the bench). We were getting the ball to the right guys, putting our guys in the right position. It was a great win for us, a great way to finish the game, I thought. I thought Talib and Dante gave us both good production. That worked very well for us, given the (foul) situation."
Pitt jumped to an early 5-4 lead. Woodall found Lamar Patterson wide-open for a three-pointer to kick open the scoring. The Panthers came down with a pair of defensive rebounds, and controlled the defensive end early. They could not convert any points off those stops on the defensive end, but were still able to hold that 5-4 lead in the game's first four minutes.
Pitt being unable to take advantage of those early stops on the defensive end kept Villanova in the game. Pitt then went 0-for-3 from the field, while outrebounding Villanova on the defensive end. However, the Wildcats went up 10-5 at the 12-minute mark of the first half.
An offensive rebound and putback by Zanna made it a 10-9 game. This after Woodall found him wide-open driving to the cage. Woodall then answered with a drive of his own, making it a 12-11 Villanova lead, just under the halfway point of the first half.
A three from Ashton Gibbs then gave Pitt the lead back, 14-13, with just under nine minutes left in the half. A jumper, followed by a three from Bell gave Villanova quick 19-14 lead, less than a minute after Gibbs' three-pointer. Bell was certainly doing his damage on defense, moving over to mark up on Patterson after Patterson's opening three-pointer. His f ive-point offensive spree here was making the difference.
Pitt—despite poor shot selection in the first half—kept getting back into it. A three-pointer from Woodall cut the deficit to 21-19. After Zanna grabbed a defensive rebound on the next series, Woodall answered with another three-pointer. It gave Pitt a 22-21 lead with 6:30 left in the first half.
Pitt continued to ride that momentum. After another defensive stop, Gibbs brought the ball up. He drew a lot of attention from Villanova's defense—drawing three defenders. He was able to force up a long range jumper, drew a foul, and connected on the jumper. Gibbs, who was an 82.9 percent free throw shooter, tacked on a free throw to give Pitt a 25-21 lead. Gibbs made a few tough shots in the game, and talked about how it just came down to trusting his own look.
"I made one pump fake to get him the first time," Gibbs said after his jumper than made it 23-21. "I jumped into him, which something I do a lot. When you're in the air, you (shoot) it a lot. I expect (to make it); every shot I take."
Pitt continued with the momentum. Patterson added a spot jumper, to extend the lead to 27-22. Dante Taylor was fouled on his way to the net on the next series. He converted both of his free throws, extending that Pitt lead to 29-23. And, as if the previous three-pointers from Woodall weren't enough, Gibbs added a clutch three-pointer that forced Villanova coach Jay Wright to burn a timeout. With Jayvaughn Pinkston in his face, Ashton Gibbs drained a three-pointer, making it a 32-23 Pitt lead.
After the timeout, Gibbs added another three from the exact same spot, putting Pitt up 35-23. As if the crowd couldn't get any louder, they did on the next drive as the trio of Gibbs, Cameron Wright and Dante Taylor pushed a 3-on-2 fastbreak. Taylor finished the play with a dunk, and drew the foul on the play. Taylor converted his free throw making it a 38-25 Pitt lead.
Pitt went on to lead 40-28 at the half, but the most telling statistic was what Pitt did in the final eight minutes of the half. Pitt was down 19-14 at that point, and in the process of scoring 26 points over the final eight minutes of the half, Pitt was 9-of-12 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. They also had a 6-2 edge on the defensive boards, forcing four turnovers alongside all of that; all part of a 22-2 run that would carry over to the second half.
And when that second half started, Pitt continued with the momentum. Gibbs added another three-pointer, building up a 45-28 lead just 1:30 into the second half. Gibbs added another jumper in the paint, in traffic, taking the Panthers to a 47-28 lead.
If it wasn't from three-point range, the Panthers could still do it inside. Woodall found Robinson underneath, who flipped it in for a layup. Pitt led 49-31. That wasn't all that was working against Villanova. The Wildcats weren't helping themselves since they led 19-14 with eight minutes left in the first half. Down 16 at this point, they had converted just 4-of-16 shots from the field, and were getting outmanned on defensive rebounds 8-2—a span of just 13 minutes.
Villanova, however, cut it down to a single-digit deficit, thanks to a quick 7-0 run in just a two-minute span. A three-pointer from Dominic Cheek made it a 49-40 game, with 13:30 left in the game.
The Panthers went nearly three minutes without a bucket, before Patterson fed Taylor for an easy dunk. Pitt established some comfort again, with a 51-40 lead after that 7-0 run by the Wildcats. Taylor later added another impromptu dunk off a three-point miss from Moore, making it a 55-41 game.
Villanova went on a little 5-0 run, before Robinson took a pass from Gibbs, then went underneath again for a reverse layup. Pitt led 57-46, as the Wildcats could not for some reason get the deficit under nine points.
Pitt would have to face one last obstacle. Nasir Robinson picked up his first foul with 6:13 left in the game. J.J. Moore was hit with a foul as soon as Villanova got the ball back, sending James Bell to the line. Bell converted both free throws, as Villanova suddenly cut the deficit to 59-52. It was the closest the Wildcats had been since the 3:41 mark of the first half.
Bell, however, fouled out on the ensuing Pitt possession. Woodalll converted both of his free throws, then answered with his third three-pointer of the game, giving Pitt a 64-54 lead. Cheek, however, answered with a three-pointer of his own, getting the deficit back to seven at 64-57, with just under four minutes left in the game.
As the two-minute mark approached, Pitt didn't put this one away very easily. Villanova brought its full court press, and the Panthers got too creative at trying to move the ball up court to an open man. It led to Woodall overthrowing Taylor, and the ball going out of bounds. Maurice Sutton answered on the other end of the court for the Wildcats, making it a 67-61 deficit.
On the next in-bounds pass, Pitt almost turned the ball over again before Woodall got a hand on the ball, to keep possession. On that possession, the Panthers worked the shot clock. It appeared that Patterson was fouled in the act of shooting right as the shot clock expired. The officials did not see it that way, citing the Panthers with a shot clock violation. Yarou answered with an easy layup, cutting the deficit to just 67-63.
This time, on the ensuing in-bounds pass, Gibbs drew a foul for the double-bonus. Gibbs hit both of his shots, making it a 69-63 game with 1:03 left.
Wayns hit a three at the top of the key—his first three after starting off 0-for-7 to from three-point range. Pitt's lead dwindled to three points, 69-66, with 57 seconds left.
Villanova played very carefully on defense—trying not to foul. They got a little help on the next Pitt series. When Patterson took a drive to the cage from the wing, he was called for the offensive charge. Patterson's shot was good, but it didn't matter. Pitt still led 69-66 with 43 seconds left, and Patterson had fouled out.
Villanova got the ball back with a chance to tie. Instead, Wayns missed a three-pointer. Woodall came down with the rebound for Pitt, and was fouled. He hit a pair of clutch free throws to make it 71-66, with 34.7 seconds left.
On the ensuing Villanova possession, Pinkston was fouled by J.J. Moore on his way up. Pinkston hit both of his shots. The Panthers in-bounded the ball with 22 seconds left. Robinson inbounded the ball to a wide-open Woodall, who hit the layup, and was fouled on the play. It was flagged an intentional foul, giving Woodall two free throws, and giving Pitt the ball. Woodall converted both free throws—including that first one which set his new career-high. After the game, some of the Pitt players talked about how this play right here clinched the game.
"I was supposed to switch," Woodall said. "I was ready to make a play, and did. That was (Robinson's) eye contact. You make contact with your guy. (Robinson) rips a pass, and you make a wide receiver (catch)."
Up 75-68 with 18.6 seconds left, the lead seemingly in Pitt's hands for good, Gibbs was fouled and sent to the line. He converted both shots, giving Pitt a 77-68 lead. Woodall added two more free throws to close the scoring.
"Watching the Georgetown game, the West Virginia game, and now today, they're starting to look like an old Pitt team," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "I didn't get to see them at the start of the season. Since Travon has come back, you can see every game, everyone getting more comfortable. They do look like a typical Pitt team now. Looking at them at West Virginia, they look like a typical Pitt team I'm used to preparing for."