Pitt 71, Eastern Kentucky 60

Foul trouble forced Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon to go to a smaller lineup, and the Panthers responded with a stifling defensive effort for 8:18 late in the first half and early in the second to hold Eastern Kentucky scoreless during a 71-60 win Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center.

Pittsburgh, now 3-0 before a trip to the Sprint Center in Kansas City for games Monday against Wichita State and Tuesday against either Iowa or No. 3 Texas in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Final Four event, led 28-24 with 6:57 left in the first half. The Panthers outscored the Colonels (1-1) 11-0 to close the half and even tallied the opening basket in the second half for an insurmountable lead.

Pitt stretched that advantage to 18 points, 55-37, on a layup by sophomore forward Nasir Robinson. EKU cut the lead to less than double-figures in the final 1:06, but Pitt made several free throws at the end to set the final score.

"Coach Dixon, he's a defensive-minded coach, and if we lock them down on defense then he'll let any combination play,'' sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs said. "So, I think it's just more defensively and rebounding.

"And I think that's just what we did. We got a lot of baskets on the offensive end, and we got open shots with good ball movement and penetration. (And) and I think we played really well together.''

Pitt's smaller lineup, necessitated due to two fouls each by Nasir Robinson and Bradley Wanamaker, included redshirt freshman Travon Woodall at point guard, sophomore Ashton Gibbs, senior Chase Adams, freshman Lamar Patterson and freshman Dante Taylor. Gibbs and Patterson benefitted the most with the extra time, especially the rookie, who was on the floor for 13 minutes.

Gibbs tallied 14 first-half points in 15 minutes on 6-for-8 shooting with two 3-pointers, while Patterson made 3 of 5 shots with two treys for 10 points, three rebounds and one assist. He played just six more minutes in the second half, but his stats didn't change appreciably.

"I was open, so I just shot it,'' Patterson said. "I'm just trying to be the best player I can be, and I've been working hard to get there. It's not that I had to show them what I could do, but I just needed to step up for the team at that point, because it was early in the game. And I just wanted to bring energy to the team, so that's what I did.''

Gibbs finished with a team-high 20 points (8-for-14), two assists and a blocked shot in 32 minutes. He tallied a career-best 22 points against Binghamton Tuesday night and has been hot since a rough three-game stretch, including the two exhibition games and season-opener, to start the year.

"I think Ashton shot the ball really well again, and we got some good shots,'' Dixon said. "But this is a tough team to play against. ... When we focus on one thing during practice, this team has really responded.

"In a previous game it was passing the ball, and we had 24 assists on 27 baskets. And this game, we talked about rebounds, especially long rebounds, and we out-rebound them by 22 (47-25) by getting some long rebounds.''

Taylor made the biggest improvement on the boards, pulling down a team-high 12 with five on the offensive end. He and junior center Gary McGhee also had four blocked shots each, as the Panthers finished with 12 blocks overall to tie a program mark originally set against St. Francis, Pa. Dec. 1, 1993.

"I thought we were going to come out and play better defense in the first half,'' Robinson, who scored 15 points, said. "I think we played all right defense, but they really made some tough shots. Coach preached about it all week (and told) us about how good they could shoot.

"So, we just tried to step up and put our hands up. But they still made some tough shots. ... We definitely rebounded better than we did before, and our defense is getting better as we go along. So, overall, I just think we're getting better with every game that we play together.''

Notes: Coach Dixon said that senior guard Jermaine Dixon (foot) will have another X-ray Friday afternoon to determine his status for next week's games, so he could see his first action soon. ... Pitt has won 24 straight at home now, including 41 in a row against non-conference teams, and improved to 118-10 overall at the Pete. ... Justin Stommes scored 24 for Eastern Kentucky, which played its first game against a major college opponent this season.

Here is the box score: Click Here

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