Robert Morris-Pittsburgh Preview
Pittsburgh has been bringing Khem Birch along slowly, but the
freshman may be blossoming quicker than the Panthers
Birch and the 17th-ranked Panthers will host Robert Morris on
Sunday night, trying to improve to 30-0 all-time against the
Pitt cruised to one of its easier wins of the season Friday,
beating Penn 78-58. The Panthers (4-1) were coming off a four-point
win over La Salle on Tuesday following their loss to Long Beach
State on Nov. 16.
Senior guard Ashton Gibbs scored a team-high 16 points while
Birch added 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Birch, starting in place of center Dante Taylor (migraine), had
totaled eight points in 39 minutes over the first four games. He
scored 14 on Friday in the second half alone, and wound up playing
“As the game went on, I got into a flow,” he said.
Birch, a McDonald’s All-American, is expected to become a key
part of Pittsburgh’s offense, but had been playing limited minutes
as he adjusted to the college game.
“He’s got a good feel, so there’s things that you can grow with
and build with,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s something you
Birch’s increased role came after Taylor took a hit to the head
in the Panthers’ victory over LaSalle. Taylor’s status for Sunday
Even if Taylor returns, significant minutes from Birch will
likely be necessary with starting forward Lamar Patterson
completing a two-game suspension handed down by Dixon for
disciplinary reasons. Patterson is averaging 7.5 points, 6.0
rebounds, 4.8 assists and 25.0 minutes per game.
J.J. Moore started in Patterson’s place Friday and finished with
12 points and six rebounds.
Pitt has been outrebounded in two of its last three games and
the improvement of its inside game could open things up more for
Gibbs, who is averaging 19.0 points but shooting 38.5 percent. He
did connect on 4 of 6 3-point attempts Friday.
As part of the Philly Hoop Group Classic, the Panthers have
shared three opponents with Robert Morris (4-1), which has won two
straight since losing to the Quakers on Nov. 19. The Colonials
defeated La Salle 51-44 on Friday despite shooting 28.0
Robert Morris outscored the Explorers 23-11 at the free-throw
line and had a 45-30 advantage on the boards, grabbing 15 offensive
rebounds. Junior guard Velton Jones scored 14 points and Russell
Johnson added 12.
Robert Morris is shooting 41.9 percent this season, but is
holding opponents to 40.5 percent. Jones leads the team with 19.4
points per game.
Pittsburgh is 29-0 against Robert Morris, winning the last 11 by
an average of 23.5 points. Gibbs scored 20 points in the Panthers’
74-53 victory last November. Jones shot 3 of 13 and finished with