The last time Pittsburgh faced Robert Morris, Panthers coach Jamie Dixon and Colonials coach Mike Rice were on the same bench.
Despite nine straight wins, the odds are stacked against Rice’s team pulling a monumental upset over Dixon and sixth-ranked Pittsburgh on Monday at the Petersen Events Center.
Rice served as Dixon’s top assistant in 2006-07, when the Panthers (19-2) improved to 26-0 all-time against Robert Morris (15-7) with a 67-53 victory. The second-year coach has quickly turned around the Colonials, who advanced to the NIT last season as Northeast Conference regular-season champions and currently lead the conference.
Pittsburgh, though, is 65-0 all-time against NEC opponents and 65-1 against non-conference opponents at home since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002. The Panthers - on the verge of their eighth straight 20-win season - currently have a 15-game overall home winning streak and a 37-game run at home versus non-conference teams.
After a 67-57 loss Wednesday at No. 21 Villanova, the Panthers rebounded Saturday with a 93-80 victory over visiting Notre Dame, rallying from a six-point halftime deficit and finishing with a season high for points.
DeJuan Blair once again came up big with 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds - the ninth 20-20 performance in school history and first since Chris McNeal had 27 points and 20 rebounds against Boston College on March 3, 1992.
“My team did a good job of getting me the ball,” said Blair, who is fourth nationally with 12.9 rebounds per game. “Twenty-two rebounds? I didn’t know that. That’s crazy. That’s really something.”
Sam Young, the Panthers’ leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, struggled through a 2-of-11 shooting performance and finished with a season-low five points, breaking a string of 16 straight games in double figures. While Young struggled, Levance Fields continued his improved play with 17 points.
The senior guard, who averaged 10.2 points and shot 38.3 percent through the first 17 games, has averaged 14.0 points and shot 51.2 percent in the past four contests.
A win would give sixth-year coach Jamie Dixon his third sweep of non-conference opponents in the regular season.
Robert Morris, which went 9-0 in January to complete just its second perfect month in 33 seasons of Division I basketball, has built its winning streak at the expense of conference rivals. The Colonials have won their past five games by an average of 26.4 points, and senior guard Jeremy Chappell’s season-high 25 points powered them past visiting Monmouth 75-62 on Saturday.
“Going against the zone, I thought everyone had some open shots,” said Chappell, who made a season-best 10 field goals. “We kept moving the ball around, and if the middle was open, we were going to take the shots. I just tried to get open and knock them down when I could.”
Chappell, who leads Robert Morris with 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, is the school’s No. 3 all-time scorer with 1,658 points and needs eight 3-pointers to tie the school’s career mark of 218.