PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- Villanova coach Jay Wright brought back a style of basketball that hasn't been seen in decades. It almost worked.
Brandin Knight scored 15 points as seventh-ranked Pittsburgh survived a wild finish for a 56-54 Big East Conference victory over the shorthanded Wildcats.
Villanova (15-13, 8-8 Big East East) was forced to dress only seven players due to Saturday's suspensions imposed on 12 players for using an unauthorized phone code. The suspensions are being staggered by the NCAA so the Wildcats can field a team for their remaining contests.
As a result, Wright was forced to start three freshmen and had only a pair of walk-ons available on the bench. The Wildcats walked the ball up on each possession, taking care to run the shot down to preserve energy and put forth a gallant effort.
"I'm very proud of our guys and their effort," Wright said. "The only thing we had left to do was to go out and play with pride and I think our guys did."
"It was very hard for us, I think, because we're used to being out running and attacking on offense but this game, we had to conserve our energy to make a run late in the game," freshman forward Curtis Sumpter said. "It was a pretty smart game plan."
The Wildcats did not substitute in the first half and fell behind by 14 points at intermission, but stayed close throughout the second half. A free throw by Knight gave Pittsburgh (23-4, 13-3 West) a 55-45 lead with 1:15 to go.
Villanova did not fold and took advantage of poor foul shooting by Pittsburgh to make one final charge. Freshman Allan Ray's two free throws cut the deficit to 56-54 with 41 seconds remaining.
"I envisioned every possible scenario," Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said. "I was nervous today because I thought they would rally. A lot of times when you have adversity, like they've had in the last 48 hours, you get extra special efforts."
After Knight missed badly on a pair of foul shots, Pittsburgh forced a jump ball on the rebound off the second miss and got the ball back as the possession arrow was in its favor. But the Panthers committed a backcourt violation, giving Villanova a chance to tie or take the lead.
Sumpter's 3-pointer was blocked by Ontario Lett and Pitt came down with the rebound. Inexplicably, Jaron Brown went to the basket for a layup rather than wait to get fouled and had his shot blocked before the Panthers came up with the loose ball and Knight was fouled with three seconds left.
Knight missed his final pair from the line and Wright called a timeout to set up a final play. But freshman Randy Foye's inbounds pass was off target and the Wildcats failed to get a shot off as time expired.
Pitt was 2-of-10 at the line in the final 75 seconds after making 10 of its first 11. Knight missed his last five foul shots and Pitt missed its final seven.
"Seven (misses) in a row," Howland said. "When you do that, your opponent, in most cases, (has) a great chance to win."
Despite the win, Pitt finished in a first-place tie for the West division title with Syracuse. The Orangemen won the tiebreaker, relegating the Panthers to the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big East tournament.
Brown scored 14 points and Julius Page added 11 for Pittsburgh, which shot 60 percent (12-of-20) in the first half before a sluggish 38 percent (16-of-42) performance in the second.
The Wildcats looked to be on the verge of getting blown out after the Panthers scored the game's first seven points. But they stuck with their game plan and took their only lead on Foye's 3-pointer that made it 11-10 seven minutes into the game.
"We knew they'd come out and play hard," Lett said. "It was just like I expected. Nobody thought it was going to be easy."
Pitt responded with eight straight points to take the lead for good, including a pair of 3-pointers by Page. After a three-point play by Foye, freshman Carl Krauser scored the final five points of a 10-1 surge that opened up a 28-15 advantage with less than four minutes left.
Knight nailed a 3-pointer that beat the halftime buzzer for a 33-19 cushion. The Wildcats shot just 35 percent (7-of-20) in the first half.
Among the suspended players for Villanova were senior starters Gary Buchanan, Ricky Wright and Andrew Sullivan, who would have been playing their final home games. Buchanan and Wright are the team's two leading scorers.
"It was tough on all of us, especially the underclassmen," said junior guard Derrick Snowden, the most experienced player available. "I think we showed a lot of character. A lot of teams, when adversity strikes, their true colors show. No matter what's gonna happen to us, we're all gonna stick together."
Villanova made its first substitution with 12:10 remaining when walk-on Tom Grace entered for Snowden. The other walk-on, freshman Michael Claxton, also saw action late in the game as the Wildcats used him to send the Panthers to the line.
"We're never gonna take solace in moral victories here, but what's important is you have young guys who are in a difficult situation," Jay Wright said. "They learn to make the best of it. That's what I'm proud of."
Ray and Foye each scored 15 points to lead Villanova and Sumpter added 14. The Wildcats dropped their fourth straight and fell to the fourth seed out of the East for the conference tournament. They will meet Georgetown in the first round on Wednesday.