PITTSBURGH – Luke Loewe's first points Tuesday night couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
Loewe scored on a put-back with 2.4 seconds left to keep the Gophers undefeated this season by escaping Pittsburgh 54-53 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the program's first road victory in 646 days.
After inbounding the ball with 7.5 seconds left to E.J. Stephens, Loewe had the instincts to crash the boards after Stephens threw up a heavily contested shot high off the backboard in the waning seconds.
The Panthers failed to box out the 6-3 senior guard, who soared to grab the ball with two hands and tip in the game-winner for the Gophers (6-0), ending the program's 12-game losing streak in true road games.
"I knew with that little bit of time everyone should crash the glass," said Loewe, who grabbed one of his team's nine offensive boards. "In those situations the refs aren't usually going to call much, so I just went in for the rebound and got the right bounce for me."
The Gophers entered the game ranked 358th — last — in Division I in offensive rebounding percentage (15.1), per Kenpom.com. They scored only six second-chance points Tuesday, but two of those field goals came in the last 30 seconds, including Loewe's basket.
"We just told our guys you got to be all out," coach Ben Johnson said. "We don't normally crash offensively, but when it's time to win the game, you got to be all out."
Payton Willis and Jamison Battle combined for 31 points for the Gophers, who erased an eight-point deficit with 10 minutes left in the second half.
Femi Odukale's jumper capped a 9-0 run to give Pitt its biggest lead at 42-34, but Battle showed why he's the Gophers' leading scorer with eight of his 16 points to tie the score.
Battle was also the first Minnesota player to go to the foul line when he hit one of two to give his team a 48-47 lead around the five-minute mark.
After the Panthers (2-5) answered for the 11th lead change, Willis' tip-in shot got the Gophers within 53-52 with 30 seconds left. Pitt's Jamarius Burton missed a midrange jumper at the other end, Battle grabbed the rebound and the Gophers called timeout with 7.4 seconds left.
"The toughness of our team all across the board has been huge for us," said Loewe, a William & Mary transfer and Wisconsin native.
The Gophers hadn't won a true road game since Feb. 23, 2020, at Northwestern under Richard Pitino, who went 0-10 in the Big Ten away from Williams Arena last season. They will try to make it two in a row Sunday at Mississippi State.
Johnson and his players hoisted a trophy away from Williams Arena when the Gophers won the Asheville Championship in North Carolina on Nov. 14 by beating Princeton in double overtime.
"Our biggest thing was to try to remind them we've been here before," Johnson said. "Just reminding them there was a lot of time left. Again, it's about stops and quality possessions offensively. … We have a philosophy we try to bend but never break."
Pittsburgh's arena was far from a bustling atmosphere, but there was also a big difference playing against a power conference opponent for the first time this season.
The Panthers had lost to the Citadel and UMBC at home this season by double digits, but Jeff Capel's squad still featured Big Ten-type size and athleticism.
Nothing the Gophers had faced before Tuesday prepared them to battle Pitt's 6-9, 280-pound John Hugley, who had 15 of his 25 points in the first half, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a 24-22 halftime lead.
During one stretch, Hugley scored 16 straight points for the Panthers, who outscored their Big Ten foe 28-20 in the paint. Gophers big men Eric Curry and Charlie Daniels both had four fouls trying to slow him.
Capel's team outrebound the Gophers 40-33, but he had to give the Gophers credit for getting critical boards when they needed to down the stretch.
"This game is a gut punch," Capel said. "If we can just get one defensive rebound in the last two possessions maybe then it's a little bit different. But we didn't, they made plays, so salute to them."