Gibbs had 18 of his career high-tying 25 points in the first half and the Panthers took advantage of the fact Cincinnati was playing without suspended forward Yancy Gates, beating the Bearcats 71-59 on Saturday night.
Led by Gibbs’ hot first-half shooting, Pitt (21-2, 9-1) built a 46-23 advantage less than a minute into the second half before the Bearcats (18-5, 5-5) made a spirited late run.
“We really focused on a couple things offensively this week, and we really saw it pay off early,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “We took great shots and made shots and really put ourselves in a good position. It great to see us go out to that big lead.”
The Panthers have built a two-game lead in the Big East standings.
Gates, a junior who leads Cincinnati in rebounds and blocked shots and was second in scoring, is suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. He did not travel with the team.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin did not hold back when asked when Gates might return.
“I’m worried about the guys that are here,” Cronin said. “I love the guys that are here. We don’t have lot of team rules: Play hard, have a great attitude, be a good guy.
“It’s not that hard to be a Bearcat. You either do it that way or you don’t play for us. It doesn’t matter who you are,” he added. “You’re going to play hard, you’re going to be coachable and you’re going to have a good attitude.”
Asked which of those three basic rules it was that Gates broke, Cronin said: “Probably all three, in my opinion.”
Larry Davis had 13 points to lead Cincinnati, which has lost five of eight after a 15-0 start. The Bearcats have lost 17 consecutive conference road games against ranked opponents.
Pitt was without reserve freshman forward Lamar Patterson, whom coach Jamie Dixon suspended in connection to being charged due to a December incident in Eastern Pennsylvania. The Panthers also did not have sophomore forward Dante Taylor because of a left knee injury.
Gibbs topped his season average (15.9) less than 13 minutes into the game. He was 7 of 11 from the field and made all five of his 3-point attempts. It was the 20th career game of 20 or more points, and he has nine this season— including 24 in Pitt’s most recent game Jan. 29.
“It’s just something that’s clicking,” he said. “I’m trying to move without the ball as much as I can, and my teammates are doing a great job of just finding me in open spots.”
The Panthers took an early 10-2 lead and never allowed the Bearcats to get within three the rest of the way. They closed out the first half on a 16-4 run.
No. 1 in the nation in rebound margin and having out-rebounded 19 of its first 22 opponents, Pittsburgh was thought to have an even greater advantage on the boards without Gates and his 6.9 rebounding average in the game. But the Bearcats became only the fourth team this season to out-rebound Pitt, 40-38.
Pittsburgh made up for it by holding the Bearcats to a season-low 33.3 percent shooting.
“We really defended well for 40 minutes,” Dixon said. “Thirty-three percent speaks volumes.”
Already without Gates, Cincinnati’s starting backcourt was held scoreless until the final 4 minutes. Leading scorer Dion Dixon was held without a point. Cashmere Wright scored six points beginning with the final two of eight consecutive Bearcat points to pull within 61-51.
The closest Cincinnati could get was within eight of the Panthers in the final minute.
“Our effort was great,” Cronin said. “You look up, and we’re down eight. … It would have been monumental to come back from 23 down—that doesn’t happen against a team this good in their gym, where they don’t lose.”
Pitt lost its most recent home game but had been defeated only once in the prior 52 games at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers haven’t lost two consecutive games at their on-campus facility since Feb. 23-26, 2005.