Pitt 71, St. John's 64

The Pitt men's basketball team took control early with a 14-2 run and bounced back nicely from a recent loss with a solid 71-64 win against St. John's Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

And in the process, No. 12 Pittsburgh (22-7, 11-5) -- which saw its four-game winning streak ended in a 68-53 thrashing at Notre Dame Thursday night -- has nearly clinched a top-four spot in the final Big East standings and two-day bye in the ensuing Conference Tournament.

The Panthers entered the game tied for third place with No. 8 West Virginia. Syracuse and Villanova, which play at the Orange's Carrier Dome Saturday night at 9, are the top two teams in the Big East ahead of Pitt and WVU. Pitt needs to beat with Providence Thursday night at 9 or Rutgers Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

Sophomore starting forward Nasir Robinson, who scored the team's first nine points in the second half, provided Pitt with 13 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes. Redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown also tallied 13 points and three assists in 21 minutes off the bench. Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs was plagued by poor shooting from the field, constant foul trouble and turnover problems, but he made 7 of 8 free throws and added 12 points with six rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes.

Dwight Hardy had 15 points for the Red Storm (15-13, 5-11), which played its last home game this season and was 0-2 to Pitt this year.

The Panthers shot better than 51 percent from the field, improved to 5-4 on the road in the Big East and upped their record at Madison Square Garden to 24-10 since 2000-01, including two Big East championship victories and a handful of title-game appearances.

Pitt led 31-23 at halftime, but was never able to get deep into a double-digit lead from the Red Storm as it had in the last four meetings. The Panthers won those games by an average of 23.2 points, including a 63-53 victory Jan. 28 at the Petersen Events Center.

Pitt lived up to its reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the Conference. The Panthers led the Big East in points allowed (61.6), were third in defensive field-goal percentage (39.8) and fourth in 3-point percentage against (31.5) and gave up 64 points on 37.5-percent shooting with a 13.3-percent effort from 3-point range.

The Red Storm managed 64 points only with a late flurry, but didn't shoot well despite getting a lot of shots up at the end. St. John's was 21-for-58 from the field and 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. Pitt shot 51.1 percent (24 of 47).

Pittsburgh native D.J. Kennedy had all 12 of his points in the second half for the Red Storm, which dropped to 0-6 this season against ranked teams, but he also had six rebounds to help St. John's out-rebound the Panthers 37-32.

St. John's used four straight free throws—a rare feat since the Red Storm shot 20-for-30 overall from the line—to get within 47-40 with 10:23 left. Gibbs and Brown sandwiched 3-pointers around a basket by Justin Burrell to give the Panthers a 53-42 lead with 8:56 left. Their biggest lead of the second half was 66-54 with less than a minute to play.

Pitt junior Bradley Wanamaker led Pitt with four assists, along with redshirt freshman point guard Travon Woodall, and he is fourth in the Big East with about that many per game on average to lead the Panthers overall.

Pitt had a rare two straight losses at the Garden after being humbled by Indiana there early this season and eliminated in the Big East Tournament last March, 2009. The win against the Red Storm was the fifth straight for the Panthers.

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