There were plenty of questions about where Pittsburgh would find offense following the departure of its three top scorers, but Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker have answered the bell.
They haven’t been alone.
Nasir Robinson was the latest to step up for the ninth-ranked Panthers, who look to remain perfect in the Big East and run their home winning streak to 32 on Wednesday night with a fourth consecutive victory over No. 12 Georgetown.
Pittsburgh (15-2, 5-0) lost Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields from last season’s 31-win team, but perhaps the biggest dilemma was who would score while Jermaine Dixon recovered from a broken foot and Gilbert Brown awaited academic eligibility.
Gibbs (17.5 points per game) and Wanamaker (13.1) averaged just 30 minutes combined in 2008-09 but have started every game in the Pitt backcourt this season, becoming the team’s offensive leaders even with Dixon and Brown back.
It was Robinson’s turn to get going Saturday. The sophomore forward totaled 13 points in the Panthers’ first four conference wins, but scored 26 and grabbed 11 rebounds against Louisville in an 82-77 overtime victory.
“I love that kid,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I remember recruiting him. You find things wrong with him but he plays so hard and just keeps getting better. He brings energy, is positive, and works hard. … He’s finding his role on the team.”
Wanamaker scored 20 points, including the final five in regulation, as Pitt won its 31st straight at the Petersen Events Center.
“I think we are playing beyond our years, but it’s just basketball to us,” said Dixon, who scored six of his nine points in overtime. “I feel like we can play with anybody in the country.”
That’s certainly been the case at home, where Pitt’s streak is tied with Siena for the nation’s second-longest behind Kansas (52).
The Panthers are one of two remaining Big East teams without a loss after Georgetown (13-3, 4-2) missed a chance to knock off the other unbeaten Sunday in Philadelphia.
The Hoyas fell behind Villanova 46-31 at halftime, the second time in three games they trailed by 15 at the break. But unlike when it rallied to beat then-No. 13 Connecticut 72-69 on Jan. 9, Georgetown lost 82-77 to the No. 4 Wildcats.
Austin Freeman had 10 of his 22 points in the opening 3:38 of the second half, yet the Hoyas could never take the lead despite tying the score twice.
“In the first half we got shots but we missed four or five layups and we had too many turnovers. They used junk defenses with guys running and jumping and it was very effective,” coach John Thompson III said.
Freeman has certainly stepped up in Big East play, averaging 20.5 points on 59.2 percent shooting. The junior guard, though, has never beaten Pitt, averaging 8.0 points and shooting 39.1 percent during Georgetown’s three-game series losing streak.
The common thread to the Hoyas’ three losses this season has been a struggling Chris Wright, who has been held to single digits four times, including each defeat.
Another key to Georgetown beating Pitt could be Greg Monroe. The sophomore center had a breakout game against Villanova - 29 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks - after averaging 11.4 points in his first five conference games.
Monroe had 15 points in a 70-54 loss to the Panthers on Jan. 3, 2009, that snapped Georgetown’s 29-game home winning streak.