NEW YORK (TICKER) —Donatas Zavackas got aggressive for Pittsburgh at the most opportune time.
Zavackas scored all 16 points in the second half and nailed a key 3-pointer in a decisive run as the fifth-ranked Panthers posted a 67-59 victory over Providence to advance to the semifinals of the Big East tournament.
Providence (16-13) used a stifling 2-3 zone defense to contain Pittsburgh for most of the game. But Zavackas’ was the catalyst with three 3-pointers, including one that came in a critical 9-0 spurt.
“The second half, we did a better job attacking the zone with some nice passes from Brandin (Knight),” Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said. “Donatas had a huge second half with 16 points.”
Knight scored 15 points and Jaron Brown added 13 for Pittsburgh, which improved to 6-2 in the last three Big East tournaments. The Panthers (24-4) enter Friday’s semifinal matchup with Boston College on a seven-game winning streak.
Back-to-back baskets by Ryan Gomes capped an 8-0 run for the Friars, who took their final lead at 51-49 with 5:37 remaining. Knight tied it with a layup and Brown fed Julius Page for a layup on the fast break for a 53-51 edge with just over four minutes left.
After Providence failed to score, Zavackas got a feed from Knight and drained his final 3-pointer of the half for a 56-51 lead. Two foul shots by Knight capped the run for a seven-point cushion.
“We like playing against zones,” Howland said. “His (Zavackas’) eyes light up when he sees a zone.”
Zavackas missed his only shot in the first half and actually asked out of the game due to fatigue, something that surprised Howland. But the Lithuanian senior was 4-of-6 from the floor in the second half and made all five foul shots.
“I never really looked for the ball,” Zavackas said. “I just wanted to let it come to me. Experience is a big key. We don’t get scared.”
A jumper by freshman Donnie McGrath pulled Providence within 61-57 with 1:16 to go and the Friars had a chance to get closer. But Rob Sanders missed a jumper with 25 seconds left and the Panthers made six foul shots in the final 24 seconds to seal it.
“We battled with them toe-to-toe for 37 minutes,” Providence coach Tim Welsh said. “Knight got in the teeth of our zone late and really hurt us. We maybe lost a little hop in our step in the last five minutes defensively.”
Knight scored only four points in the second half, but made up for it with his flawless leadership at point guard. The senior had just three turnovers and allowed Zavackas and Brown to combine for 23 points in the second half. Knight also had five steals to lead a big effort on defense.
The Friars were bothered by the Panthers’ pesky hands and committed 18 turnovers and shot only 35 percent (19-of-44).
“Guys were just paying attention in going through the scouting reports,” Knight said. “A couple plays that they called, I was going to gamble and go for steals.”
McGrath led Providence with 17 points and Gomes fouled out with 16 and 11 rebounds. The Friars held a 38-27 advantage of the glass and turned 16 offensive rebounds into 13 points.
However, the Friars’ inexperience showed down the stretch as Gomes, the team’s leading scorer, managed only a pair of foul shots in the final five minutes. Providence, which starts no seniors, had one basket in the final 5:37.
“We’re a young team, we have a couple sophomores and a freshman point guard,” the sophomore Gomes said. “Their experience carried them through the last five minutes.”
Pitt also shot 80 percent (12-of-15) at the line after a disastrous stretch in the regular-season finale at Villanova on Sunday in which it went 2-of-11 in the closing moments.
The Panthers played without reserve forward Chevy Troutman, who has missed the last two games with ankle problems. Howland indicated that Troutman is listed as day-to-day.