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No. 10 Panthers Survive Scare from Rider, 86-78

Ashton Gibbs

Ashton Gibbs

Nov. 13, 2011

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ashton Gibbs scored 24 points, including the clinching 3-pointer with a minute remaining, and No. 10 Pittsburgh escaped Rider 86-78 on Sunday night.

Nasir Robinson added 22 points and six rebounds for the Panthers (2-0), who trailed by as many as six in the second half but ended the game on a 16-5 run to win their 58th straight nonconference game at the Petersen Events Center.

Anthony Myles led the Broncs (0-2) with 20 points but Rider -- which dressed nine players and played just seven -- ran out of steam in the final 5 minutes.

Brandon Penn hit a 3-pointer to give Rider a 73-72 lead, but 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.

The Panthers, who cruised to a 33-point win over Albany in their season-opener Friday, appeared to be on their way to another rout as hot shooting from Gibbs and Travon Woodall helped build a quick 14-point lead.

Yet Rider -- which was whipped by Robert Morris on Friday -- didn't back down even while playing with a short-handed bench. 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."

Rider used a 13-2 run to get back in it.

"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."

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."