There wasn't much to get excited about in college basketball on Thursday night, but the combination of Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs and Providence's spectacularly poor defense salvaged an otherwise dull slate of games.
Trailing by one and needing to go the length of the floor with 3.5 seconds remaining, the Panthers appeared on the verge of a loss that could have cost them a top-four finish in the Big East and a double bye in the conference tournament. Then Providence inexplicably decided not to guard the inbound pass, force Gibbs' to change direction or contest his shot, giving him a far easier look at this game-winning 25-footer in a 73-71 victory.
"Someone asked me the other day who would I want taking a last shot, and I definitely said Ashton," Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's a great 3-point shooter, a great pull-up shooter. You definitely want Ashton taking the shot in that situation."
As a result of Gibbs' shot, Pittsburgh can finish no worse than fourth in the Big East, guaranteeing the Panthers a bye to the quarterfinals of next week's conference tournament. A victory over Rutgers on Saturday would secure the No. 2 seed in the tournament for Pittsburgh if West Virginia beats Villanova and the No. 3 seed if the Wildcats win.
For Providence, the Big East tournament represents one final chance to squeeze positive memories from a season that has careened out of control the past few weeks. The hard-luck Friars have now lost nine in a row after a 4-4 Big East start, ESPN's Jay Bilas suggesting they have the worst defensive team in Big East history.
Opposing teams are shooting 46.5 percent against 3-point-happy, up-tempo Providence and scoring 81.5 points per game, third highest among 334 Division I teams.
"Anybody can see that defense is going to be the No. 1 priority in the offseason," coach Keno Davis told the Providence Journal earlier this week. "With the redshirts (forward Kadeem Batts) and freshmen we have coming in, we'll have some of the quality depth that we lack right now."