WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP)—The first victory of what is expected to be a special season at Pittsburgh was overshadowed by a postgame ceremony.
About 30 minutes after the fourth-ranked Panthers beat Western Michigan 86-67 on Sunday in the inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic, the woman for whom the event is named was honored.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, the older brother of Maggie, helped create the doubleheader following her death in April at 28. Three weeks after leading Army to its first NCAA tournament appearance as a first-year coach, Dixon died of arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart.
Between games, Maggie Dixon’s parents, her sister, Julie Dixon-Silva, and Jamie were presented with a ring commemorating the 2005-06 Patriot League championship. Banners honoring Maggie as conference coach of the year were unveiled in the rafters of Christl Arena.
Jamie Dixon held up the ring box to his team, which was standing just off the court. The players pointed back and continued applauding.
“It was so important for us to be here for Coach Dixon,” said center Aaron Gray, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds. “It is so fortunate for us to have a coach like that. With all he has gone through off the court these last months and to see how he has handled it, we know he is ready to handle anything on the court.”
The Army women’s team, now coached by Dixon’s former assistant Dave Magarity, lost in the second game, falling 77-41 in No. 7 Ohio State.
“Our family now has such a special affinity for this place,” Jamie Dixon said of West Point, where his sister was buried, an honor rarely given to civilians. “The people here have treated us so well and made our family part of their family.”
Mike Cook, a transfer from East Carolina making his debut with the Panthers after sitting out last season, was 7-for-11 from the field and had 17 points to lead five scorers in double figures.
“I was really nervous before the game. I wanted to make a good impression on everybody,” the 6-4 swingman said. “I was able to get a couple of easy baskets early and settle into the game.”
Derek Drews led the Broncos, who trailed by 25 points at halftime in the season opener for both teams, with 13 points.
“That is probably one of the best teams we’ll play this season and hopefully we’ll play one like that at the end of the year,” Drews said, referring to the NCAA tournament. “They went on a big run in the first half and I thought we battled back in the second half. But they have the possibility of being the best team in the country.”
Pittsburgh, returning four starters and eight of its top 10 players from a team that went 25-8 last season and earned its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid, gave up a home game to participate in the doubleheader.
The Panthers shot 59 percent and outrebounded the Broncos 37-28.
Michael Redell added 10 points for Western Michigan, which returned three starters from a team that finished 14-17 last season.
The Panthers took control in the first half with a 17-2 run that gave them a 36-16 lead with 5:43 left. Cook had six points in the run as Pittsburgh used its size advantage to dominate inside.
Ronald Ramon hit two 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds to give Pittsburgh a 47-22 halftime lead. Ramon finished 4-for-5 on 3s and had 16 points.
The 7-foot Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year, was able to block shots without even leaving the floor as Western Michigan’s front line, with nobody taller than 6-7, tried to go right at him.
Keith Benjamin made a free throw with 12:38 to give the Panthers their first 30-point lead, 60-30.
“There’s so much talent on this team that anybody who thinks I have to be the workhorse and is the only main guy is wrong,” Gray said.
It was the first meeting of the schools and the loss dropped the Broncos to 3-1 all-time against the Big East. The wins were against Virginia Tech, no longer a member of the conference, from 2001-04.