Pitt didn't play a complete game, but they turned it on when they had to, in running away from crosstown-rival Robert Morris 73-54. Ashton Gibbs led four players in double-figures with 20 points. Gary McGhee led the Panthers with 12 rebounds, followed by Nasir Robinson with 11 rebounds.
Joining Gibbs in double-figures was Brad Wanamaker with 17 points, and McGhee and Gilbert Brown each with 11 points. Russell Johnson--a high school teammate of Robinson at Chester--led the Colonials with 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Colonials were without the services of leading scorer Karon Abraham, who was a game-time decision. Head coach Andy Toole said after the game that Abraham's status would be "day-to-day."
"It was a good win for us against a team I anticipate will be on top of the Northeast Conference, I hope they are an NCAA Tournament team," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. "They're good, and they played hard. We're good, and we played hard."
It was a shaky first half for Pitt, but they were able to hold on for a 33-28 lead over Robert Morris at the intermission. Pitt got out to a 22-11 lead with 9:19 remaining in the half thanks to a Talib Zanna dunk, off a fast break. Zanna was set up by Brad Wanamaker.
Through the first 10 minutes of the game, Pitt turned the ball over seven times, while Robert Morris had just two turnovers. The Panthers turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, but toned it down in the second half, turning the ball over just five times. The Colonials kept it close in the first half, scoring 10 points off those 10 turnovers in the first half. For the game, they scored 15 points of Pitt turnovers.
Dixon is not hitting a panic button, but based issues with turnovers in the last three games, he says it is something the team needs to address.
"I think (Robert Morris) had something to do with it; they're a team that forces a lot of turnovers," Dixon added. "They're a team that fouls a lot. They're very aggressive. I anticipated having a few more turnovers. There's some things there that have happened in other games, as well, that we need to improve on. We understand that, now we have to do it."
Working their way towards halftime, Pitt added another fast break layup, this time from Gilbert Brown, also off a feed from Wanamaker. Wanamaker led the team with seven assists. Pitt led 24-11 with 8:36 left in the first half. The Colonials called a timeout, then held Pitt scoreless for the next four minutes.
Though Pitt regained a 31-21 lead with just over two minutes left in the half, they were held without a field goal in the final two minutes of the half. A pair of free throws from Gary McGhee would send the Panthers into the locker room with a 33-28 lead. At the intermission, Wanamaker was the lone Panther in double-figures with 11 points. Three different Panthers--Brown, Wanamaker and Travon Woodall--each had two turnovers each.
Pitt came out with a 7-0 run to start the second half, kickstarted by a Gibbs three-pointer. Pitt jumped out to a 42-28 lead just three and a half minutes into the second half. The Colonials didn't get their first score until a layup by Lijah Thompson at 16:39. That 14-point lead was Pitt's largest of the game.
Once again, though, the Colonials wouldn't go away just yet. Pitt had turnover trouble in the first half. Two important players in the rotation got into foul trouble in the second half, as Robert Morris capitalized. Travon Woodall picked up his third foul at 14:24 while trying to defend Coron Williams on a drive. Dante Taylor picked up his third at 12:45, reaching for a ball at midcourt. Robert Morris answered after Taylor's third, trimming the deficit to under 10, 44-36. After another layup at 11:34, Dixon had seen enough, calling his first timeout of the half.
After Robert Morris' Velton Jones got an offensive rebound under the glass off a missed three-pointer by Johnson, his putback got the Colonials within six again, at 47-41.
Pitt answered with a string of three consecutive three-pointers to help open the game up. After Brown's three-pointer at 10:38--before Jones' putback for Robert Morris--Gibbs tacked on his second three-pointer of the game, for a 50-41 Pitt lead. The Panthers lead went back into double-digits thanks to a three-pointer from Wanamaker on the next possession.
Aside from the barrage of three-pointers, Pitt's defense held Robert Morris without a field goal for nearly four minutes. Following Wanamaker's three, off a dribble, Brown slashed to the hole for a dunk, putting Pitt up 55-41. He was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw attempt. McGhee was there for the rebound, and the putback. He converted his free throw attempt, putting Pitt up 57-41; a 16-0 run over a span of 2:45.
Pitt dominated the rebounds over the final seven minutes of the game, while closing it out, especially on the defensive end. Up 58-41 with seven minutes to play, Pitt held Robert Morris to 4-of-14 from the field, while grabbing eight defensive rebounds off those 10 missed shots. Though the Panthers didn't add another field goal in the final 2:43, their edge on the glass in the final seven minutes, and throughout the game, proved to be too much for Robert Morris to overcome.
"It's kind of what we do, isn't it," Dixon said. "We do it game after game; road, neutral, home. Execute down the stretch. I think execution is key, defense tightens up, free throws down the line. I think we've seen this story before."