No. 5 Pitt rides late surge to 74-53 win
Eleven minutes to go, and No. 5 Pittsburgh leads a familiar opponent that's never beaten the Panthers by only five points. Within a couple of minutes, it's a rout.
Maybe that explains why the Panthers, unlike nearly every other major college team, usually win the games they're supposed to win. As evidenced by their 100-1 record in their past 101 non-conference home games.
Ashton Gibbs scored 20 points and Gilbert Brown's soaring dunk started No. 5 Pittsburgh on a 14-2 run, allowing the Panthers to pull away from Robert Morris for a 74-53 victory on Tuesday night.
Brad Wanamaker scored 17 points and Gary McGhee had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Panthers (6-0), who are 29-0 against their suburban Pittsburgh rival. Brown added 11 points and Nasir Robinson had 11 rebounds in 23 minutes as Pitt held a 51-36 edge on the boards.
''I saw doubt in my guys' eyes and that's scary as a coach,'' Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.
It's not an uncommon sight for opponents at the Petersen Events Center, where Pitt is 136-11.
''We've had good players, and we've got good players,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said when asked about Pitt's ability to dodge the home-court upsets that occur nightly in major college basketball. ''It's kind of what we do. It's like, 'We've seen this before.' ''
Robert Morris (2-2) has seen this many times before in a series in which it has been outscored by an average of 23 points in the past 11 games.
Russell Johnson scored 15 points on 6 of 20 shooting, but the Colonials shot only 30.9 percent without leading scorer Karon Abraham. He was held out for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.
The Panthers opened leads of 14-7 and 24-11, but eight consecutive points by Johnson that included a pair of 3-pointers cut it to 24-19. Pitt made it 33-23 before the Colonials scored the final five points of the half.
Last season, the Panthers took control during their 77-53 victory against the Colonials by starting the second half with a 20-4 run. They tried repeating that by scoring nine of the first 11 points after halftime, but a 9-2 surge by the Colonials made it 44-39.
Robert Morris then had a chance to get within 3, but couldn't score - and it wasn't in the game again. After that, 3-pointers by Brown, Gibbs and Wanamaker in a span of exactly 2 minutes allowed Pitt to start building its lead in a hurry.
The Panthers effectively sealed it when Brown was fouled while dunking, taking off from the low block along the foul lane. He missed the free throw, but McGhee scored on a putback, was fouled and completed a three-point play that made it 58-41 with 7:07 remaining.
''That was the start of the end for us,'' said Toole, who felt his players got out of their offense by trying to beat defenders one-on-one. ''They defend, rebound, and for the most part take care of the basketball. They don't beat themselves.''
Pitt took its first 20-point lead at 68-48 on freshman J.J. Moore's leaning 10-footer.
Abraham's absence was a major setback for a team that shot 35.6 percent in its first three games, then made only 21 of 68 shots against Pitt. Abraham averages 14 points and had 16 points against Pitt last season.
The Colonials, best known nationally for nearly upsetting second-seeded Villanova in last season's NCAA tournament, regularly compete with and against the Panthers in Pittsburgh's summer college league. As a result, the Panthers weren't surprised by the Colonials' ability to play tight defense, force turnovers - Pitt had 15 to Robert Morris' eight - and get a team out of what it does best.
Only the Colonials couldn't do it for 40 minutes.
''We always seem to play better in the second half,'' Robinson said.