Pittsburgh had a pair of tough tests in the 2K Sports Classic last week, but ultimately emerged with two victories to boost its unbeaten resume.
When it comes to facing Robert Morris, the fifth-ranked Panthers are used to being perfect.
Pitt looks to improve to 29-0 against the local rival Colonials on Tuesday night while seeking its 51st consecutive win over a non-conference opponent at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (5-0) won their first three games on campus by an average of 32.4 points, but didn’t have nearly as easy of a time against a pair of major conference foes last week at Madison Square Garden.
A 49-28 rebounding advantage proved to be the difference in a 79-70 win over Maryland on Thursday, but the Panthers were edged 37-35 on the boards by Texas in Friday’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic.
Thanks to Ashton Gibbs, that didn’t matter. While his teammates shot just 37.2 percent, Gibbs was 8 of 14 from the field - including three 3-pointers - to finish with 24 points and lift Pitt to a 68-66 victory.
“He was the guy that was shooting it,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We ran pretty much every play we had for him and he kept making shots.”
Gibbs led Pitt with 15.7 points per game last season but shot 39.7 percent, and the Panthers’ inaccuracy plagued them in losses in the first round of the Big East tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
So far, though, Gibbs’ shooting looks much improved. He’s averaging 19.0 points and hitting 48.4 percent from the field - including 47.1 percent (16 of 34) from 3-point range.
Gibbs hit 4 of 10 from beyond the arc and scored a game-high 20 points in Pitt’s 77-53 win Feb. 8 over Robert Morris (2-1), which has lost all 28 meetings in the series.
The Panthers have won the past 10 by an average of 23.8 points, outrebounding the Colonials by 15.4 per game.
Robert Morris, which took second-seeded Villanova to overtime before losing 73-70 in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament, comes into this meeting having just knocked off another local rival.
The Colonials bounced back from a halftime deficit to beat Duquesne 69-63 on Friday behind 15 points from sophomore guard Karon Abraham, who had 23 points in nearly spearheading the monumental upset of the Wildcats.
“Just such a big win,” said senior Gary Wallace. “I’m so proud of the guys, and the guys who came off the bench. They stepped up big.”
Robert Morris has shot a woeful 35.6 percent through three games, including 22.5 percent from beyond the arc. But it’s outrebounded opponents by 6.0 per contest and forced an average of 19.0 turnovers, positives that at least have it hopeful heading into an environment where no non-Big East team has won since Bucknell in January 2005.
“It’s always fun,” Wallace said of playing the Panthers. “Especially because you come to Robert Morris to play teams like Pitt.
“To get a win at Pitt, that would be just a dream come true.”