Ashton Gibbs was named the Big East’s most improved player last season. The problem for Pittsburgh’s opponents is he keeps getting better.
Gibbs and the No. 5 Panthers look to extend a 51-game non-conference home winning streak Saturday night against Penn.
As a sophomore, Gibbs increased his scoring average from 4.3 as a freshman to a team-leading 15.7 in 2009-10. He’s scored 20 points or more in four of six games as a junior after having 11 such games through his first two seasons combined.
Gibbs scored a game-high 20 and went 4 of 8 from 3-point range as the Panthers defeated Robert Morris 74-53 on Tuesday.
Starting backcourt mate Brad Wanamaker added 17 for Pittsburgh (6-0), which hasn’t lost a non-conference home game since falling 69-66 to Bucknell on Jan. 2, 2005. The Panthers are 100-1 against non-Big East competition since the 2001-02 season.
Wanamaker averages 15.7 points while Gibbs ranks among the Big East leaders in scoring (19.2 ppg) and 3-point shooting (47.6 percent).
“They are and have been good for us and we anticipated that they would be for us when we recruited them,” coach Jamie Dixon said of his guard tandem. “They can and will get better as the season goes on because they’ve improved their whole careers here. That’s the best feeling a coach can have. It’s about wanting to get better and having the ability to get better and they both have it.”
The Panthers seem to get better as the game goes on. They’ve made a habit of pulling away with key second-half runs to remain perfect.
Despite the lopsided victory Tuesday, the Panthers needed a 14-2 run to break open a five-point game with nearly 11 minutes remaining to avoid the upset. Pittsburgh went ahead of Maryland on Nov. 18 with an 11-2 surge to open the second half in a 79-70 victory. The following night, Gibbs scored 19 of his 24 points in the second and sealed a 68-66 win over Texas with two free throws with 23.1 seconds left.
“Game after game, wherever it’s played, we execute down the stretch,” Dixon said. “I think execution is key, defense tightens up. We have been getting to and making it at the foul line down the stretch.”
The Panthers hope for an easier game against Penn, which is coming off a 74-65 come-from-behind victory over Lafayette on Tuesday.
The Quakers (2-2) trailed 39-31 early in the second half, then outscored the Leopards 43-16 the rest of the way. Junior guard Zach Rosen had team highs of 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Senior forward Jack Eggleston leads Penn, averaging 16.0 points and 6.8 rebounds.
However, the Quakers are being outrebounded by more than five per game - including a 42-19 disadvantage in a loss to Drexel - and may have a difficult task stopping Pittsburgh on the glass. The Panthers have outrebounded opponents by 16.3 per game, an improvement of more than 11 boards from last season.
This is the 13th meeting between the in-state schools, but the first since Jan. 30, 1976 when Pittsburgh won 67-60. Penn leads the all-time series 7-5.