Rider-Pittsburgh Preview

BY foxsports • November 12, 2011

There's no doubting the tremendous all-around talent of Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs, but some wondered if the Panthers featured enough offensive firepower to repeat as regular-season Big East champions after losing their second and third leading scorers.

Judging by the season opener, junior guard Travon Woodall could be primed to become a much-needed second scoring option.

Tenth-ranked Pittsburgh looks for a 58th consecutive non-conference home victory when it faces Rider in the Philly HoopGroup Classic on Sunday night.

The Panthers (1-0) were surely more than thrilled when Gibbs, who finished sixth in the conference with 16.8 points per game last season, announced he was returning for his senior year.

It was unclear, however, as to who would step up to fill the voids left by Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. The duo averaged a combined 23.0 points in helping Pittsburgh claim the 2010-11 Big East regular-season title.

Woodall gave notice that he might be ready to take on much bigger offensive load with a stellar performance on Friday.

He recorded a career-high 25 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, leading the Panthers to a 89-56 win over Albany on Friday.

"I felt good, I'm working on something, working on my shot. I know a lot of guys will be keying on Ashton," said Woodall, who made 9 of 13 from the field - including a career-best 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the year, had 21 points and a career high-tying seven assists.

Pittsburgh's young roster features 10 underclassmen - including freshmen John Johnson and Khem Birch - a McDonald's All-American. Johnson had eight points while Birch was held to two in 17 minutes.

"They played well (and) they played hard at the end of the day," Gibbs said. "When you play hard the game is going to come to you. John (Johnson) got a couple of easy baskets and so did the other guys. I expect big things from them. They work hard and they listen, so the sky's the limit for them when you work hard and listen. I expect a big year out of them."

The Panthers are also adjusting to playing without former center Gary McGhee, who averaged a team-best 7.7 rebounds last season. They didn't seem to miss a beat against the Great Danes, though, holding a 35-23 rebounding advantage.

"I really like our frontcourt. I think they do a great job in a lot of areas," coach Jamie Dixon said. "They are very versatile. We don't have that one big guy, but yet we have a lot of good length, mobility and good skills that continue to improve. My hope is that there is much improvement in the coming months out of those guys."

Pittsburgh has outscored teams by an average of 22.5 points during its 57-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. Gibbs scored 16 points during last season's 87-68 victory over Rider (0-1).

The Broncs are coming off an 83-57 season-opening loss at Robert Morris on Friday. Sophomore guard Anthony Myles scored a career-high 20 points but proved to be the lone bright spot on a Rider team which committed 25 turnovers - its highest total since Jan. 21, 2008.

"It was a long night," coach Tommy Dempsey told the school's official site. "I was a little worried coming in but this was worse than I expected. We have a lot of guys in different roles and a lot of guys coming into the program."


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