Pitt turns it up, trounces city rival Robert Morris

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe, just maybe, Robert Morris coach Mike Rice thought late in the first half, this game against Pittsburgh would be different.

It wasn't.

It's difficult to be perfect in NCAA Division I basketball, but Pitt is exactly that against its city rival.

Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon led a mid-game surge as Pittsburgh (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) broke out of a tie late in the first half by scoring 27 of the next 32 points, and remained unbeaten against Robert Morris with a 77-53 victory Monday night.

The Panthers are 28-0 in the series, all on their home court, winning each time by at least eight points. Since 1999, the Panthers' average winning margin is nearly 24 points.

Gibbs scored 20 points, only the second time in 10 games he's reached the 20-point mark, and Dixon had 18 points and six rebounds while holding Colonials leading scorer Karon Abraham to two points over the final 24½ minutes.

Brad Wanamaker added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers (18-6), who were 10 of 22 from 3-point range. Gibbs was 4 of 10 beyond the arc and Dixon was 3 of 6 as Pitt matched its season high in 3s achieved twice previously.

"We always try to go inside but the way the offense was running, we got some outside shots," said Dixon, who was 8 of 35 from 3-point range coming in. "I've been knocking them down better in practice and I've got some confidence with my outside shot."

Pitt won its second game in three days after losing four of five and ended a nine-game winning streak by Robert Morris (16-9) for the second straight season.

The Panthers, tuning up for a Friday rematch against No. 5 West Virginia, took control by breaking out of a 32-all tie with 2:38 left in the first half to lead 59-37 with 12:18 remaining.

"We were on our heels," said Rice, a former Pitt assistant. "They kept punching and we kept backing up."

Still, for most of the first half, this was a rarity in the all-Pittsburgh matchup: a close game.

The Colonials -- an NCAA tournament team out of the Northeast Conference last season -- took advantage of Abraham's fast start to go ahead 19-13. The 5-foot-9 freshman had 14 points when Pitt led only 30-29 late in the half, but he wasn't a factor offensively the rest of the game and finished with 16, failing to get a field goal over the final 24 1/2 minutes.

"He didn't let me have the ball at all," Abraham said of Dixon.

Once Abraham stopped scoring, the Colonials did, too, as Pitt scored seven of the final eight points in the first half to take a 39-33 lead. Gilbert Brown's tip-in with 2:18 remaining -- his first basket of the game -- made it 34-32 and preceded Dixon's 3-pointer and Brown's own baseline drive. Brown ended with six points after scoring 23 during an 83-58 win over Seton Hall on Saturday.

Gary McGhee didn't score in the first half, but dunked for the first two baskets of the second half as Pitt scored the first eight points after halftime to extend its run to 15-1. Robert Morris managed only a free throw by Rob Robinson over a span of 5:24, and had only three baskets during a stretch lasting 13 1/2 minutes.

"They've got smaller guards like you don't see in the Big East, and often times they surprise you with their quickness," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But we stayed with it in the second half and we wore them down."

Russell Johnson scored 11 points and Velton Jones and Mezie Nwigwe had 10 each for the Colonials, who were outrebounded 43-28.

"You've got to keep playing [Pitt] for 40 minutes," Jones said. "You can't play for 7 minutes and let up for 5. Maybe we can do that sometimes in the NEC, but you've got to go for the whole 40 minutes."

Pitt won its 47th consecutive home game against a non-conference opponent and is 75-1 against non-Big East teams in the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers are 68-0 against Northeast Conference opponents.