Due to off-court issues, Binghamton suspended six players, and the head coach resigned to leave the Bearcats -- the America East champions and NCAA Tournament team last spring -- decimated this year. Three minor players from that squad and assistant coach Mark Macon were elevated to starring roles, and walk-ons were brought in to fill out the roster.
After beating Division II Bloomsburg, Pa. in its opener, Binghamton made a "quantum leap'' in opposition, according to Macon, to face Pittsburgh. And the results were as expected with the Panthers roaring to an early lead and winning 71-46 in the opening round of the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.
Pitt (2-0) faces Eastern Kentucky in the second round Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.
"As I told our guys, I accept the challenge,'' Macon said, "for myself and for my men. ... Against a team like Pitt, you have things happen like Ashton Gibbs. He had 17 points in the first half, and we had 17. You don't expect that to happen, but you have to accept the challenge. So, that's what we've done.''
Gibbs was amazing after a slow start. Counting his first game against Wofford this past Friday night (0-for-5) and his opening two shots against Binghamton (0-for-2), Gibbs missed seven straight 3-pointers to start the season. And he wasn't too sharp in Pitt's two exhibition games, either, but that didn't stop him.
Gibbs worked especially hard this week, hitting the court some two hours before tipoff to get some extra shots in, and it eventually paid off. Gibbs made his next five straight from 3-point range and added two free throws to give Pitt a 37-17 halftime advantage.
The Panthers' lead increased to 28 points several times in the second half, as Gibbs made 6 of 10 from long range and finished with a career-best 22 points in 31 minutes. Bradley Wanamaker had 14 points, while Travon Woodall had 10 with 13 assists and just two turnovers in 28 minutes. Nasir Robinson tallied seven points, 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal in 31 minutes.
"I had a couple open looks, so I just wanted to take advantage of it by knocking them down, and that's what I did,'' Gibbs said. "I knew it was going to come sooner or later, so I just wanted to be patient with it and just take what the defense gives me and be unselfish with it, too. (But) I have confidence in myself, and If I have an open shot I'm going to take it.''
Woodall's shooting hasn't been as sharp as he might line, but to put in perspective his assist total it took Levance Fields, Pitt's previous point guard, until his junior year to reach double-digits in assists. And it's not like the Panthers were lighting it up from start to finish, but they got hot in the second half. And Woodall's passing was a key.
"When you have players like Ashton knocking down 3s, six of them, it's pretty easy to get assists when you've got guys like that,'' Woodall said. "But I learned a lot from Levance last year. He taught me to be patient and to take advantage of what the defense gives me, so that's all I did.''
Robinson's stat line is quite spectacular for a sophomore playing just his second game as a starter. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted that Robinson allows him to do some different things with the four position due to his athleticism and passing ability. Robinson has taken it all in stride.
"I just tried to come out and focus on my rebounding, boxing out and beating my guy to the ball,'' Robinson said. "Coach Dixon stresses that, for us to out-rebound our opponent by at least 10, so we need to keep working on that because we didn't do it again (32-26). We have a lot of work to do.''
Junior center Gary McGhee chipped in with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and six rebounds in 18 minutes. Freshman Dante Taylor also played 18 minutes and tallied six points and four boards. Freshman Lamar Patterson played 13 minutes and contributed one 3-pointer.
Redshirt freshman Dwight Miller played six minutes, while frosh Talib Zanna and J.J. Richardson played three minutes each. Zanna and Richardson did not play at all in Pitt's opening game this season.
Pitt is 10-0 all-time vs. America East Conference opponents now. Here are the Panthers' records against that league: Albany, 1-0; Binghamton, 1-0; Boston, 1-0; Maine, 1-0; UMBC, 2-0; New Hampshire, 1-0 and Vermont, 3-0. The last time Pitt played an America East team it beat UMBC, 91-56, Dec. 13, 2008.
Pitt 71, Binghamton 46
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