Pitt 65, DePaul 52

Pitt roared to a 13-point lead in the opening 6½ minutes to take control, but watched that lead dwindle to five and needed to pull away late for a 65-52 win against DePaul in the Big East men's basketball opener for both Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers (11-2) got 23 points from Ashton Gibbs, including three in an opening 15-2 advantage, as Pittsburgh led by as many as 16 points at 30-14. DePaul (7-6), which lost all 18 Conference games last season, was held to just nine points in the first 10 minutes.

"That's something I worked hard on over the summer,'' Gibbs said. "So, I did a good job working out, and my coaches did a great job helping me with my shot. And Coach Dixon stresses for me to take good shots and to keep shooting if I miss a couple here and there.''

Senior Jermaine Dixon added 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but he played solid defense. Junior Bradley Wanamaker, Pitt's No. 2 scorer behind Gibbs this season, made just 3 of 12 shots for seven points.

"Coach Dixon had us well prepared as he always does,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "We just had to stay focused and execute the game plan. We want to show that we can defend and take it personally to go out there and shut our man down.

"This is a big stretch for us. It's an opportunity for us to show everyone where we are as a team. The Big East is a great conference so everyone goes through tough patches. But big games like this are why you come to a school like Pitt.''

Gibbs, who was 7-for-11 from the field and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, also had seven rebounds and four assists with two steals, a blocked shot and just one turnover in 35 minutes.

"Since I'm a shooter, the defense keeps a little tighter coverage on me,'' Gibbs said. "Coach Dixon has told me to take open shots when I get them and go to the basket when I don't have anything outside. So, that's what I've been doing.

"And no matter how my shot feels, I'm still trying to get others involved. I have the freedom to take shots within our offense, but it's a team game. And I want to focus on making sure we get the best look we can every time down the court. I also have been trying to focus on rebounding the ball more on both ends of the floor.''

Wanamaker also had nine rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. Pitt shot poorly from the line at 56.3 percent from the field, but was 8-for-10 in the second half after a 1-for-6 start.

"Ashton's (seven) rebounds were a great sign,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Rebounding is an area we really stressed where he needed to get better. When he first got here, it was not something he did particularly well. However, he's committed himself to getting better at it.

"And you saw proof of that hard work tonight. It's a key to what we do as a team that our perimeter guys have to rebound well, and we got solid performances on the boards from both Ashton and Brad.''

Will Walker and Mac Koshwal tallied 11 points each, while Mario Stula had 10 as cold-shooting DePaul lost its fifth in seven games. The Blue Demons scored just three points in five-plus minutes in the game after cutting Pitt's lead to five, 54-49, with 5:41 remaining.

"It's always good to get off to a strong start in Big East play,'' Coach Dixon said. "We didn't play our best game for 40 minutes tonight, but I thought we played well in stretches, especially on defense. We had a lot of guys step up and contribute tonight, which is also a good sign.

"We have things to build on going forward from this game, but there are still improvements to make. We weren't as sharp as we'd like to be in that regard, especially in the first half. We had another careless moving screen, which seems to be something that keeps happening.

"Overall though, our numbers aren't that far off from where they've been in other seasons,'' Dixon added. "We're usually one of the best teams in the country in that regard, so some of our struggles tend to get a bit exaggerated.''

Pitt plays No. 5 Syracuse Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

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