No. 10 Pittsburgh 86, Rider 78
Jamie Dixon expected his young guys to make careless mistakes.
The Pittsburgh coach didn't expect his team's veterans to get in on the act too.
While the 10th-ranked Panthers escaped with an 86-78 victory over undermanned Rider on Sunday, Dixon spent most of the night watching the defending Big East regular-season champions let the Broncs hang around much too long for his liking.
Despite suiting up only nine players and playing just seven, Rider took advantage of uncharacteristically shoddy Pitt defense to take a six-point lead in the second half before the Panthers finally got it together.
''We're always concerned this time of year,'' Dixon said. ''We've got to get better. This better not be our best, put it that way.''
The Panthers (2-0) survived behind 24 points from senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to finally give Pitt some breathing room.
Nasir Robinson added 22 points and six rebounds for Pitt, which ended the game on a 16-5 run to win its 58th straight nonconference game at the Petersen Events Center.
Unlike a 33-point romp over Albany on Friday, this one wasn't easy.
Anthony Myles led the Broncs (0-2) with 20 points as Rider shot 53 percent from the field, turned it over just five times and kept things interesting despite missing three regular contributors.
Guard Tommy Pereria and center Dera Nd-Ezuma both missed the game with injuries. Freshman forward Junior Fortunat is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA and Jonathon Thompson is serving a suspension for a violation of team rules last season.
The available players more than held their own. Daniel Stewart scored 18, Novar Gadson had 17 points and Virginia transfer Jeff Jones chipped in 15 as the Broncs hung tough despite being outrebounded 43-19 by the bigger, broader and deeper Panthers.
''It was punch, counterpunch the whole game and we just came up a little short,'' Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said.
But just a little.
Rider, which was crushed by Robert Morris on Friday, took a 73-72 lead on a 3-pointer by Brandon Penn before the Panthers started flashing the kind of defensive intensity that's become the program's hallmark under Dixon.
Dante Taylor kickstarted a late Pitt surge that Gibbs capped with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Pitt up 82-76.
''It started on the defensive end,'' Gibbs said. ''We started getting stops. It wasn't our best performance, but we got through it. We knocked down some key shots and got stops.''
Stops the Panthers didn't think they'd need after racing to a quick 14-point lead. Gibbs and Travon Woodall, who dismantled Albany in the opener, opened up red-hot as Pitt went up 30-16 before the game was 9 minutes old.
Dixon isn't sure his team let up, but it was obvious the Panthers backed off and started picking up on Rider's defensive habits.
''I kept saying `Don't get into their thing,''' Dixon said. ''I said we need to be out, we need to be aggressive, we need to be active.''
The Panthers were none of those things for long stretches.
Rider used a 13-2 run to get back in it as Pitt looked a little bored at times, particularly on defense.
Dixon experimented liberally with his line-up, trying to give a team littered with 10 underclassmen time to jell. That's what November is for, though Dixon didn't anticipate some of his older players making the same kind of mental defensive lapses.
''We have so many young guys out there we've got to all be learning and listening and getting better,'' Dixon said. ''We had older guys make young men mistakes and we've got to get that changed.''
The offense wasn't so hot either when the ball wasn't in Gibbs' or Woodall's hands. At one point Dixon gestured angrily as reserve forward Talib Zanna threw the ball out of bounds trying to find Gibbs on the wing.
It wouldn't be enough to snap the Panthers out of their slumber. Rider eventually tied it at 45 on a 3-pointer by Jones just before the halftime buzzer, sending the Broncs racing to the locker room while Dixon stalked off behind his sleepy team.
Rider's 45 points were the second-most the Panthers have ever allowed in a half at home since the Petersen Events Center opened. Big East rival Notre Dame once dropped 46 in a half against the Panthers, though Pitt came back to win that game in overtime.
The Panthers didn't have to work quite as long this time, though they appeared to be in serious trouble when a dunk by Myles gave the Broncs, picked to finish fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the preseason, a 61-55 lead with 11:40 to go.
Pitt's defense finally awoke and the Panthers found enough focus to improve to 81-0 all-time at the Pete against nonconference opponents in November and December.
Woodall finished with 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for the Panthers, while Robinson made 9 of 10 shots in 35 minutes in his first extended action since undergoing minor surgery just before practice started.
''He did some good things on the offensive end, had four assists,'' Dixon said. ''That sets up the scoring too.''