Robert Morris 71, Pittsburgh 81

Robert Morris still can’t beat Pittsburgh.

The Colonials fell to 0-30 all-time against their crosstown foes

with an 81-71 loss on Sunday night, as the Northeast Conference

power struggled to find any rhythm against the bigger, deeper

Panthers.

Pitt held Robert Morris star Velton Jones to 10 points on

1-of-14 shooting and the Colonials never threatened after falling

behind by double digits midway through the first half.

””We need to play a full 40 minutes of good basketball and not

just 20 minutes,” Jones said.

Robert Morris (4-2) had trouble on the glass against Pitt

forwards Khem Birch and Talib Zanna, who combined for 25 rebounds

in addition to Birch’s six blocks.

”Zanna was playing volleyball by himself up there a couple of

times,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. ”I thought too many

times tonight as I watched I saw our guys watching and

unfortunately they’re participating in the game and I’m just a

spectator on the sideline.”

Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 21 points while Travon Woodall had 12

points and 10 assists as the Panthers improved to 69-0 all-time

against members of the NEC.

Cordon Williams led Robert Morris with 19 points but the

Panthers (5-1) clamped down on Jones, who came in averaging 19.7

points but managed barely half that total.

The Panthers threw several players at Jones, and his teammates

struggled to pick up the slack. Zanna and Birch had a lot to do

with it, as they controlled the lane when it mattered.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has brought Birch along slowly, though

the way Birch and Zanna are playing it may be difficult to keep

them off the floor when Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson return on

Wednesday against Duquesne.

Both players sat out their second straight game, though for

vastly different reasons. Patterson is serving a two-game

suspension for a violation of team rules while Taylor continues to

struggle with migraines.

The duo should be back on Wednesday when the Panthers face

Duquesne, though minutes may be hard to come by considering the way

Birch and Zanna are playing.

Birch had 15 points, 10 rebounds and played with boundless

energy as Pitt rolled to a 20-point win in his first start on

Friday at Penn. He wasn’t quite as aggressive offensively against

the Colonials, though he didn’t have to be considering the way his

teammates were shooting the ball.

Some of the confidence must have rubbed off on Birch, who

knocked down a rare 17-footer early in the second half.

By then the Panthers were cruising. Pitt never let Robert Morris

get within striking distance following a 16-4 burst midway through

the first half.

The Colonials, who have dominated the NEC over the last four

seasons, tried to slow down the pace early. They worked the clock

on offense and made the Panthers work to get open looks, forcing

Pitt into a shot clock violation on one possession and a

desperation 3-pointer on another that came nowhere close to going

in.

The strategy worked for a few minutes, or about as long as it

took Pitt to hit the gas.

The Panthers broke it open using their signature pressure

defense, taking control midway through the first half behind

Wright, who turned two Robert Morris giveaways into a layup and a

dunk, one that earned him a technical foul for swinging on the rim

before letting go.

Williams knocked down two free throws as a result, but it hardly

slowed the Panthers.

Pitt slowly kept extending the lead, playing efficiently on

offense and aggressively on defense, something the Panthers have

lacked at times. The Panthers were lit up in a loss to Long Beach

State two weeks ago and had problems getting stops in wins over

Rider and La Salle.

There were no such issues against the Colonials, who shot just

37 percent from the field and only briefly got within single digits

over the game’s final 30 minutes.

Yet the Colonials continued to scrap, extending the final minute

with the kind of gritty play that’s made them one of the top teams

in the NEC over the last five years.

Robert Morris put up six shots during one possession and

finished with 17 offensive boards even though Pitt held a 39-35

advantage on the glass.

Those kinds of numbers have to get down quickly for the

Panthers, who have games against Oklahoma State and Tennessee

looming in the first half of December.

”(Our defense) is getting better, but it’s not where it needs

to be,” Dixon said. ”It’s been fun watching it improve … but

we’re not satisfied. We need them to finish off a little bit

better.”