NEW YORK (AP)—Pittsburgh has four starters who have played in the last two Big East tournament championship games. They moved one step closer to another chance at winning the school’s first title Thursday, and they did it with defense.
The fifth-ranked Panthers held Providence to one field goal over the final 5 1/2 minutes in a 67-59 quarterfinal victory.
Next up for Pittsburgh (24-4) will be Boston College (18-10), which beat St. John’s 82-75 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
“We’re not looking forward to a championship yet,” Panthers senior guard Brandin Knight said. “Last season is over. We just want to take the next step to win it, and Boston College is next.”
Pittsburgh and Boston College didn’t meet in the regular season.
The Friars (16-13) did a good defensive job on the Panthers, and they used an 8-0 run to take a 51-49 lead with 5:36 to play on a layup by Ryan Gomes.
The Panthers answered with a 9-0 run that showed their first offensive sparks of the second half. Knight started it with a drive with 4:41 left, his first points of the second half, and Julius Page added a layup 33 seconds later, his first points of the second half.
By the time Knight made two free throws with 2:50 left to give Pittsburgh a 58-51 lead, Providence had come up empty on four straight possessions.
A jumper by Donnie McGrath with 1:15 left brought Providence to 61-57, but the Panthers went 6-for-6 from the free throw line over the final 24 seconds to seal their seventh straight win.
“Our experience and veteran leaders took control down the stretch,” Panthers coach Ben Howland said. “We’ve got veterans who have played in a lot of big games.”
Like Donatas Zavackas, who had 16 points and was the key defender against Gomes, who was double-teamed almost every time he touched the ball.
“We have a lot of guys who have played in this situation, and experience is a big key when it comes down to the last four minutes or so,” he said. “We just keep playing good defense and don’t give up.”
Knight had 15 points for the Panthers, who allowed just 60 points a game this season, while Jaron Brown had 13 and Page eight.
“In the second half they did a good job on Brandin and Julius, and I got some shots and made them,” Zavackas said. “All I was worried about was Gomes not scoring.”
McGrath had 17 points, all but two on 3-pointers, for the Friars, while Gomes, who was forced away from his favorite spot on the block, had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Gomes, who entered the game averaging 18.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, was 6-for-12 from the field, and the Friars shot 35.2 percent (19-for-54) and committed 18 turnovers.
“That was probably the best a team played defense against me this season,” Gomes said. “They’re a veteran team and they did a great job doubling me.”
Providence snapped a five-game losing streak in the Big East tournament with the 73-50 opening-round win over West Virginia. The Friars, who probably will play in the NIT, had won three straight and six of seven.
“Our guys have been very focused over the last month on winning, and today I saw that look in their eyes, but it takes more than that to beat a team as good as Pittsburgh,” Friars coach Tim Welsh said. “We stayed even with them for 37 minutes and then they made the plays down the stretch.”