Tennessee had the ball with a chance to tie the game against No. 17 Pittsburgh with 9.8 seconds left Saturday afternoon.
That's when Panthersguard Ashton Gibbs showed why he's the preseason Big East Player of the Year and a two-time All-Big East men's basketball selection.
UT sophomore point guard Trae Golden drove the ball at Gibbs but got caught up in traffic. Pitt's star guard pounced on the opportunity and forced a tie-up that by virtue of the possession arrow gave the ball to the Panthers with 3.6 seconds left.
It led to a 61-56 victory for Pitt, which improved to 7-1 while the Vols dropped to 3-4 before an announced crowd of 17,249 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I came down the court, kind of got caught up in a lot of traffic, things got hectic and they tied it up,'' said Golden, a first-year starter whose 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left had pulled UT within two. "I was just looking to make a play, but it was a turnover on me.''
The final play aside, Vols coach Cuonzo Martin identified the Panthers' 17 offensive rebounds as the key to the game, as it led to Pitt scoring 18 second-chance points to UT's four.
"If you're standing right next to a guy and they're getting the rebound, it's just effort and putting a body on somebody,'' said Martin, who harped on rebounding throughout the week. "That's the bottom line; I thought Nasir Robinson (nine offensive rebounds) did a great job dominating the game on the offensive glass.''
Asked about Vols' power forward Jeronne Maymon only getting one rebound, Martin replied: "Nasir Robinson won that battle.''
Gibbs and the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Robinson led the Panthers with 16 points each, and Robinson finished with 12 rebounds.
Pitt was playing its first game without injured junior point guard Tray Woodall, who averages 14.1 points and 8.3 assists. Gibbs assumed the point guard role and dished out six assists while the Panthers commited only six turnovers.
UT's Cameron Tatum recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Golden and Maymon had 12 points apiece.
"You don't get satisfied until you get a win,'' Tatum said. "Nobody remembers, and says 'good job coming close.'
"Winning at home is important. We have to protect this house.''
The Vols set out to do just that after Pitt matched its largest lead of the game on a Lamar Patterson 3-pointer that made it 58-50 with 1:46 left, sending many UT fans to the exits and leaving the arena half empty for the Vols' unlikely comeback.
A video review led to Gibbs being called for a flagrant foul with 54 seconds left, and Golden split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to seven.
The Vols retained possession, and Tatum drove the lane to cut the Panthers' lead to 58-53 with 43.5 seconds left.
Pitt proceeded to unravel, missing the front end of two one-and-one free throw situations (Patterson, Dante Taylor) before Golden's 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left.
UT fouled immediately on the ensuing inbounds, and again, Pitt's Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one with 10.9 seconds left.
Golden brought the ball upcourt and was met at the top of the key by Gibbs, who got both hands on the ball to force the pivotal change of possession.
The Vols led by as many as six points in the first half before the Panthers closed with a 7-0 run to take a 27-26 advantage into intermission.
UT junior Kenny Hall, who had a career-high 12 rebounds to go with his eight points, said Saturday's setback was a team loss.
"We weren't doing a good enough job of boxing out,'' Hall said. "I got 12 boards, but I still gave up a couple of them (rebounds) on physical offensive rebounds. I'm pretty sure over this next week we're going to be doing a lot of boxing out drills.''
Tennessee returns to action at noon next Saturday against Austin Peay (0-9).
Mike Griffith covers UT men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Mike Griffith32