PITTSBURGH – Ashton Gibbs had 18 points and No. 4 Pittsburgh clinched the outright Big East title, using a big second half to beat reeling No. 19 Villanova 60-50 on Saturday.
After Notre Dame won at Connecticut earlier Saturday, Pitt (27-4, 15-3) needed a victory to secure the No. 1 seed for the Big East tournament for the first time since 2004 and third overall. Nasir Robinson, Travon Woodall and Gilbert Brown each had nine points for the Panthers, who almost blew a 2½-game lead in the conference.
Villanova (21-10, 9-9) was without Corey Stokes (left hamstring) and leading scorer Corey Fisher was limited due to early foul trouble. But the Wildcats managed to stay close behind Maalik Wayns, who had 23 of his career-high 27 points in the second half.
Villanova opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take a 28-25 lead. But Pitt responded with an 16-4 surge to grab the advantage for good.
The Wildcats learned earlier Saturday that Stokes would not be able to play after aggravating a left hamstring injury in practice on Thursday. Then fellow senior guard Fisher picked up his third foul with 1:35 to play in the first half and was limited to seven points.
Pittsburgh trailed 30-29 before reeling off nine straight points, highlighted by a Woodall putback that caused Villanova coach Jay Wright to use a timeout, sending the sellout Senior Day crowd of 12,843 — fifth-largest on-campus crowd in Pitt history — into a frenzy.
The Panthers continued an alarming recent trend of starting slowly — they've averaged only 24½ points in the first half over the past four games — but rebounded to beat Villanova at home for the eighth consecutive time.
Pitt has won 24 of its last 25 games at the Petersen Events Center and has never lost to the Wildcats here. Villanova's most recent win in Pittsburgh was Feb. 17, 1996, at Fitzgerald Fieldhouse.
The Panthers ended Villanova's 47-game winning streak at The Pavillion with a 57-54 win last month.
The Big East title is Pitt's fourth overall and third outright crown.
The Wildcats were picked to finish second in the Big East in the preseason coaches' poll but will be seeded either 10th or 11th at the conference tournament, pending the result of the Marquette-Seton Hall game later Saturday.
The Panthers outrebounded Villanova 36-23.