No. 25 Pittsburgh steadily pulled away after that on its way to a resounding 77-53 win against Robert Morris Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Overall, the Panthers (18-6) had a 27-5 run to secure the non-conference win, as sophomore Ashton Gibbs and senior Jermaine Dixon led the way. RMU (16-9), which leads the Northeast Conference, forged a 32-32 tie with just 2:38 remaining in the first half. Pitt's run gave it a 59-37 lead with 12:18 left.
"It's clear by watching Robert Morris' film that they're a NCAA-caliber team,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "They're leading their league, and I expect them to be back in the NCAA Tournament again this year. Mike Rice has done a great job with their program, and I'm glad to see they're doing well.
"They had a great first half. They came out and made shots, and I think that we were surprised with the quickness of their guards and with their ability to shoot. Being a Big East team, we typically don't see too many small guards, but we got better as the game went on. We moved the ball better and played better defensively in the second half. We held them to 25-percent shooting.''
Gibbs scored 20 points, only the second time in 10 games he's reached the 20-point mark, and Dixon had 18 points and six rebounds while holding Colonials leading scorer Karon Abraham to two points over the final 24 1/2 minutes. Junior Bradley Wanamaker added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers.
"It felt good,'' Gibbs said when asked about shooting 4-for-10 from the field, all 3-pointers. "It's something that I've been working on consistently. I knew that they would fall sooner or later. I take advantage of what the defense is giving me. My teammates did a good job of finding me in open spots.
"(Overall on offense), we take what the defense gives us. We've been working on moving with the ball and working on moving without the ball. We did a good job of both (Monday night), which allowed us to get some easy baskets.''
Pitt won its second game in three days after losing four of five and ended a nine-game winning streak by Robert Morris for the second straight season. Abraham scored 16 points for the Colonials, but he didn't have another basket after hitting a 3-pointer with 5:34 left in the first half.
The freshman's only points of the second half were two free throws with Pitt leading by 22 points with 6:06 remaining. Russell Johnson scored 11 points and Velton Jones and Mezie Nwigwe had 10 each for the Colonials.
"(Defensively), in the first half, we were switching and not closing out, which allowed them to drive,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "In the second half, we definitely picked up our intensity. It worked out well. They only shot about 25 percent. (Offensively), I think that I was taking some bad shots in the beginning of the year. This game, I was getting more open 3-point looks.
"The shots that I missed (Monday night) were also bad shots. When our team is knocking down 3-point shots, the opposing team's defense has to extend out more. That allows us to dump it down to Gary McGhee or Dante Taylor. As a team, we like to slash and get to the basket. Knocking down shots makes us drive more. By hitting from the perimeter, it helps keep other teams honest.''
For most of the first half, this was a rarity in the all-Pittsburgh matchup: a close game. Pitt is 28-0 in the series now, all on its home court, with every victory by at least eight points. Since 1999, the Panthers' average winning margin is nearly 24 points.
The Colonials, an NCAA tournament team out of the NEC last season, took advantage of Abraham's fast start to go ahead 19-13. The 5-foot-9 frosh had 14 points as Pitt led only 30-29 late in the half, but he wasn't a factor offensively the rest of the game.
Once Abraham stopped scoring, the Colonials did, too. Pitt scored seven of the final eight points of the first half to take a 39-33 lead. Gilbert Brown's tip-in with 2:18 remaining -- his first basket of the game -- broke the 32-all tie and preceded Dixon's 3-pointer and Brown's own baseline drive.
Brown has been a streaky scorer lately, getting 25 points against South Florida and 23 against Seton Hall but not scoring against West Virginia while the Panthers were in a tailspin. He finished with six points.
Senior center Gary McGhee didn't score in the first half, but dunked for the first two baskets of the second half, as Pitt scored the first eight points after halftime to extend its run to 15-1. Robert Morris managed only a free throw by Rob Robinson over a span of 5:24 and had only three baskets during a stretch lasting 13 1/2 minutes in which Pitt took a 57-37 lead.
Pitt won its 47th consecutive home game against a non-conference opponent and is 75-1 against non-Big East teams in the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers face West Virginia for the second time in 10 days Friday at 9 p.m. at the Pete. Pitt lost at WVU last Thursday night.
Pitt 77, Robert Morris 53
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