Pitt Tops Robert Morris 81-71

Ashton Gibbs nets his fourth 20-point game of the season, while Cameron Wright sets a new career-high.

Ashton Gibbs scored 21 points and Cameron Wright added a career-high 13 as No. 17 Pittsburgh rolled past Robert Morris 81-71 on Sunday.

The Panthers (5-1) won their third straight by shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half and playing with a defensive intensity they have lacked at times early in the season.

The addition of rangy freshman forward Khem Birch into the lineup helped. Birch finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and six blocks while making his second career start.

Cordon Williams led Robert Morris (4-2) with 19 points but the Panthers clamped down on Robert Morris star Velton Jones, who came in averaging 19.7 points but was held to 10 on 1-of-14 shooting.

Pitt improved to 29-0 all-time against its crosstown rival and 69-0 against Northeast Conference opponents and won despite missing forwards Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor.

Both players sat out their second straight game, though for vastly different reasons. Patterson is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules while Taylor continues to struggle with migraines.

In their absence the highly touted Birch has emerged. He had 15 points, 10 rebounds and played with boundless energy as Pitt rolled to a 20-point win in his first start on Friday at Penn.

He wasn't quite as aggressive offensively against the Colonials, though he didn't have to be considering the way his teammates were shooting the ball. Some of the confidence must have rubbed off on Birch, who knocked down a rare 17-footer early in the second half.

Birch knows learning the offense will take time. He doesn't think he needs to wait to make an impact defensively, and his six blocks against the Colonials were one off the school record.

Sophomore forward Talib Zanna posted career-highs with 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Panthers, who never let Robert Morris get within striking distance following a 16-4 burst midway through the first half.

At 31 Robert Morris' Andrew Toole is the youngest coach in Division I.

The Panthers have spent the first three weeks of the season searching for an identity. They may have found one thanks to the emergence of Birch.

Coach Jamie Dixon took his time slowly easing Birch into the fray but was left with no choice when Taylor couldn't go because of recurring headaches.

The Colonials, who have dominated the NEC over the last four seasons, tried to slow down the pace early. They worked the clock on offense and made the Panthers work to get open looks, forcing Pitt into a shot clock violation on one possession and a desperation 3-pointer on another that came nowhere close to going in.

The strategy worked for a few minutes, or about as long as it took Pitt to hit the gas.

The Panthers broke it open using their signature pressure defense, using a 16-4 run midway through the first half to take control. Wright turned two Robert Morris giveaways into a layup and a dunk, one that earned him a technical foul for swinging on the rim before letting go.

Williams knocked down two free throws as a result, but it hardly slowed the Panthers.

Pitt slowly kept extending the lead, playing efficiently on offense and aggressively on defense, something the Panthers have lacked at times. The Panthers were lit up in a loss to Long Beach State two weeks ago and struggled getting stops in wins over Rider and La Salle.

There were no such issues against the Colonials, who shot just 37 percent from the field and only briefly got within single digits over the game's final 30 minutes.

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