NCAA TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
Thursday, March 17, 2011, 6:57 p.m.
By Ryan OHalloran
The deficit was only six points. The neutral fans at Verizon Center were starting to get fired up. And the opponent wasnt doing nearly enough of the things that made it a top seed.
It was all right there for North Carolina-Asheville Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Pittsburgh with 15-plus minutes remaining.
And then reality struck the pesky Bulldogs missed seven of their next eight shots and Ashton Gibbs decided to put the Panthers on his shoulders.
Gibbs scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half as the Panthers eventually ran away from Asheville for a 74-51 victory.
Through the afternoon session, No. 16 seeds are 0-105 all-time against No. 1 seeds.
Pittsburgh advances to play Butler Saturday in the third round.
A 45-percent shooting team entering the game, Asheville shot only 30.9 percent against Pittsburgh and missed 16 of 19 shots from 3-point territory.
During the season, youre making shots and you see your teammates making shots and then when they dont fall, it can be frustrating, but good shooters never stop shooting, Asheville guard J.P. Primm said. We didnt stop shooting. They just didnt fall down the stretch.
Said Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon: We really wanted to keep them from getting going, especially from 3.
Despite the cold shooting, the Bulldogs were still in position to make history at halftime (down 30-25) thanks to a 10-4 run.
We went into halftime down five, and thats where we wanted to be, guard Matt Dickey said. We wanted to make sure it was a game in the second half.
Surprisingly, Primm said the halftime locker room wasnt boisterous about the possibility of pulling off the upset.
Im not going to lie a lot of the guys were quiet because we felt we didnt play our best half, he said. Even though we were in the game, I felt that vibe but a lot of guys kept on saying, Were in this. Were in this.
And the Bulldogs were for a little while.
Asheville cut the lead to three points twice before Pittsburgh reeled off seven straight points, including five by Gibbs. But the Bulldogs answered with a quick, 6-2 spurt. With 15:22 remaining, they had a chance, but the cold shooting woes returned, and Gibbs caught fire.
Gibbs scored five points on Pitts 9-0 run that ended Ashevilles chances.
You have to take every possession and value it and not just with the ball every defensive possession, too, Dickey said.
Gibbs did his work on 9-of-16 shooting (6 of 9 from 3-point territory). It was his fourth game of at least 25 points in his past nine games.
I just tried to move without the ball, he said. It was just our turn to be patient and let the game come to us and my teammates did a great job passing me the ball to get open shots.
Contact O'Halloran at email@example.com.