Pittsburgh (16-4 overall, 7-4 in the Big East) has never lost to RMU (16-8, 11-1 in the Northeast Conference) in 27 previous meetings and is 67-0 against teams from the NEC. The Panthers also are 74-1 against non-conference opponents at the Pete with a 21.9-point victory margin in those games.
"We're not exactly going to be favored at the University of Pittsburgh,'' RMU coach Mike Rice said. Rice was an assistant for Pitt coach Jamie Dixon during the 2006-07 season and then took over the Colonials' program.
But RMU could be more competitive. The Colonials have a nine-game winning streak, among the longest in Division I-A at this time, and have dominated the NEC. That doesn't guarantee a close game with Pitt, but it means RMU has some talent and certainly won't be intimidated.
Of course, RMU won the NEC last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but still lost by 20 to Pitt. Sure, the Colonials had a chance to cut Pitt's lead to single digits with about six minutes left in that game, but never got that close in the end. Still, the Panthers don't want a letdown after a win against Seton Hall.
"They're a great team, and they're coming off an NCAA tournament berth,'' Pitt senior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "Being in Pittsburgh, they're going to come in here and play hard. It's a quick turnaround (after playing the Pirates Saturday night), but we'll watch film and be ready for (tonight).''
RMU also played at home Saturday night. While Pitt whipped Seton Hall, 83-58, to snap a two-game losing streak, the Colonials stomped Saint Francis (Pa.), 75-63. Freshman guard Karon Abraham leads RMU with with 12.9 points per game and nearly 46 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Other top players are senior forward Rob Robinson (9.5 points per game, 5.4 rebounds), senior guard Mezie Nwigwe (9.0, 4.3) and freshman guard Velton Jones (8.3 points).
"They're a very experienced team,'' Coach Dixon said. "They have a bunch of seniors, guys we're familiar with. I know how important the game is for them and how important it is for us. It'll be a very important game for both teams.''
Despite their overwhelming success against RMU, the Panthers likely are more confident after hammering Seton Hall. Pitt had lost to Seton Hall earlier in the year and dropped four of its previous five games with two straight losses. But Pitt didn't look anything like the team that lost at WVU and at South Florida.
The 25-point victory was Pitt's largest margin of victory in Big East play this year, which matched its 25-point win against Binghamton earlier in the season. And the 83 total points were its highest-scoring game and third time the Panthers have surpassed 80 this season, as five players scored in double figures for the first time. Pitt got a season-best 32 points from its bench.
Defensively, the Panthers held Seton Hall to just 58 points, the 14th time (in 23 games) that Pitt's opponent scored 60 or less. Redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown noted how the Panthers were able to turn things around.
"Coach Dixon emphasized in practice that we move the ball more and get shots for other players,'' Brown said. "In our past two games, we didn't rack up a lot of assists, and we weren't shooting the ball very well. We were rather stagnant in our offense because of it. Even in games we were winning, we still could have passed the ball more and looked for that extra pass.
"We just got away from our game a bit, but (against the Pirates) we did what we needed to in order to improve our offense. We weren't taking shots early in the shot clock, we were letting it go down and then we made those key shots, as well as we made those shots for other players. This is the type of game we needed in order to get back on track.''
Brown was just one Pitt players who was more aggressive on offense and defense from the outset. Junior center Gary McGhee also had career-best double-double numbers with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes.
"I felt good,'' McGhee said. "The last couple of games I wasn't grabbing the offensive rebounds, and I was more (active) on inside in order to get a better shot. Overall, it was a much better game for me.''
And a much better game for the Panthers as well.
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