They then controlled the first two overtimes, weathered the loss of multiple key players who fouled out in the extra sessions, and beat West Virginia 98-95 in a triple-overtime thriller in the Steel City on Friday night.
While the majority of the crowd of 12,902 will remember the game as a rousing comeback by the hosts, the Mountaineer fans who watched -- as well as the players and coaches who impacted the outcome -- will instead see it as a game they let slip away.
Indeed, a plethora of errors in the final minutes of regulation allowed Pittsburgh to make that rally possible. WVU players missed the front end of three consecutive 1-and-1 free throw opportunities within a span of only 14 seconds.
Those empty trips gave just a glimmer of hope to the Panthers. Some clutch shooting from Gibbs and Travon Woodall made sure that the Mountaineers would pay for their miscues. The pair of Pitt guards combined to score seven points in a span of 17 seconds to make the comeback a reality.
Gibbs got things started with a jumper with 43 seconds left to make it 66-61 in favor of West Virginia.
After Da'Sean Butler missed the third and final front end of a 1-and-1, Woodall drove the lane and was fouled by Joe Mazzulla. Woodall canned both free throws to bring his team within one possession at 66-63.
When Truck Bryant answered with a pair of free throws of his own, it seemed as though the Mountaineers would be able to hold on. But Woodall countered, hitting a jumper of his own.
Bryant then mishandled the ball in the back-court, and Brad Wanamaker ended up with it. He appeared to step out of bounds before passing to Woodall, who kicked out to an open Gibbs on the wing. The sophomore guard's 3-pointer tied the game at 68, sending the fans who remained in the arena into a frenzy.
Bryant missed a driving attempt to win in the final seconds, and a game that had seemed all but locked up for WVU was suddenly heading to overtime.
"We went to the line and missed free throws and fumbled around," said Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins. "You have to give Pitt credit. (Head coach) Jamie (Dixon) has a good team. They didn't fold, but they had a lot of help from us."
Instead, West Virginia (19-5, 8-4) found itself in the position of needing a rally in the first extra period. The Panthers carried momentum into overtime and needed only 2:06 to claim a five-point lead when Gary McGhee made a pair of free throws.
WVU countered, making five of its next six free throws and bothering Pitt's offense by switching to a 1-3-1 zone defense. Butler made a pair of attempts from the charity stripe with 1:07 left in the OT to tie things up at 75.
But all seemed lost when Gilbert Brown broke free for an easy dunk to give the hosts the lead back and a pair of 3-point attempts (one each from Kevin Jones and Butler) were off target for the Mountaineers.
Gibbs grabbed the rebound after Butler's miss and was fouled. But the sophomore guard could only hit one of two free throws, and given one last chance, Bryant made a 3-pointer with one second left to send the game to a second overtime.
Again, Pittsburgh jumped out quickly. A pair of free throws from Woodall gave his team an 88-85 lead with only 28 seconds to go in the period. After a WVU timeout, Butler attempted a 3-pointer from the wing. It fell no good, but the senior forward was fouled by McGhee on the attempt.
Showing no nerves after missing critical free throws in regulation, Butler sank all three attempts to tie things up. The Panthers had one last chance to win, but McGhee's short tip-in attempt rimmed out, and a final attempt from Woodall that fell through came just after the buzzer had sounded.
Finally, momentum seemed to be turning in the Mountaineers' direction when Butler quickly canned a mid-range jumper to start the third overtime. That 90-88 edge was WVU's first lead since regulation.
When both Woodall and Brad Wanamaker fouled out for the Panthers within less than a minute of each other, that further seemed to tip the scales in favor of Huggins and company.
But while Pittsburgh wouldn't score a field goal in the last 3:19 of the game, it wouldn't need to.
"We had almost everyone in foul trouble," Dixon said. "I thought that we were going to run out of guys, but we found a way."
They did so by sinking all six of their free throws in the final 1:02. Two of those came from the hands of Brown, giving the hosts the lead back with 29 seconds left, just after Butler had made a mid-range jumper to give his team the edge.
Trailing 96-95, the Mountaineers tried to work the ball in to Butler down low. But Pitt players double-teamed the senior even before he could get in position to catch a pass, and Devin Ebanks' jumper from the top of the key was no good.
A pair of points from the charity stripe thanks to Gibbs extended Pitt's lead, and a final off-balance, desperation attempt from Bryant fell no good, allowing the hosts to run their record in games at the Petersen Events Center against teams ranked in the nation's top five to 6-0.
It was a devastating end to a game West Virginia had dominated almost all night. Until Gibbs' game-tying 3-pointer in the waning moments of regulation, Huggins and company had led since a John Flowers 3-pointer gave them a 22-20 edge with 8:16 to go in the first half.
"We played pretty well in overtime," Huggins said. "But when you have the ball and you're up five points (in the final seconds of regulation), you're supposed to win."
WVU had controlled the glass, holding a 15-0 lead in second-chance points at the end of regulation. But after switching to the 1-3-1 zone in overtime, the Mountaineers allowed Pitt to earn several extra opportunities with key offensive rebounds.
"We emphasized rebounding all week, and didn't get it done until the end of the game," said Dixon. "Our zone gave them rebounds too. I think that allowing offensive rebounds is a weakness of a zone defense. You can hurt a 1-3-1 with your rebounding. That's what we did. It turned the tide in a big way."
In the process, West Virginia fell for the second-straight time in a triple overtime game. It had last played three extra sessions in a 105-102 loss at Rhode Island on Feb. 24, 1994. The defeat kept the Mountaineers from earning their first three-game winning streak over their arch-rivals since 1997-98.
While Huggins and company are sure to drop from their lofty No. 4 ranking when the polls are released on Monday, as they fell at home to Villanova before being on the losing end Friday night, the head coach said all his team could do was try to focus on what is next instead of dwelling on what cost it the game.
"You go back to work," said the third-year WVU coach, when asked how his team could recover from an emotionally draining defeat. "We have to get ready for Providence next."