Men’s Basketball: Pitt pulls out victory over Rider

By Lauren Kirschman

The Pitt men’s basketball team fell behind by as many as five points in the second half,… The Pitt men’s basketball team needed a late second-half run to defeat Rider on Sunday night.

The Panthers fell behind by as many as six points in the second half and used a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead and pull out an 86-78 victory over the Rider Broncs on Sunday night.

No. 10 Pitt came out strong early in the first half, scoring 30 points in about nine minutes to claim a 30-16 lead on a jumper by Ashton Gibbs with 10:49 remaining before the break. But after that, the Panthers went cold offensively and grew sloppy on defense, allowing Rider to tie the score at 45 at the half and stay close for the remainder of the game.

With the Panthers trailing 73-72 with 5:12 left in regulation, center Dante Taylor scored inside to reclaim Pitt’s lead for good. Point guard Travon Woodall then sank a 3-pointer that gave Pitt a 77-73 advantage with 4:27 remaining.

Several key defensive plays followed, as forward Nasir Robinson took a charge and Robinson and Taylor each blocked a shot.

“It started on the defensive end,” senior guard Gibbs said. “We started getting stops. It wasn’t our best performance, but we got through it … That’s what we base our game on: defense and rebounding.”

Robinson took advantage of the stops, scoring as the shot clock ran out to push Pitt’s advantage to 79-73. But the Broncs weren’t to be taken care of that easily, and Rider guard Anthony Myles answered with a 3-pointer to trim Pitt’s lead back to three.

Gibbs responded with a 3-pointer of his own, pushing the score to 82-76 with one minute remaining.

Rider’s Daniel Stewart scored on a layup 15 seconds later, but the Broncs were forced to send Pitt to the foul line in an effort to make a late comeback.

Pitt went 4-6 from the line and  ended the game on a 14-5 run.

“There are no 6-point plays,” Gibbs said. “We just have to take it one shot at a time.”

Rider shot 53.6 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three.

The Broncs fell to Robert Morris 83-57 in their season opener on Friday, giving many the impression that the Panthers would easily coast to a victory.

But Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said he knew that Rider was better than its performance against the Colonials.

Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey said that he knew it, too. “I told our guys [before the Pitt game] there is no such thing as a moral victory,” he said. “We were embarrassed by how we played on Friday … We did fall short of the goal, but I was pleased of the effort.”

After the Panthers jumped out to their 14-point first-half lead, Rider took off on a 13-2 run that trimmed Pitt’s advantage to 32-29 with 6:47 left in the half. “They came out and they made shots … they played a lot more efficient, and they have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things off the dribble,” Woodall said. “You all saw that tonight.”

The Panthers built their lead back to six with 1:14 remaining, but the Broncs hit two threes to go into halftime tied with their hosts at 45.

The Broncs’ 45 points were the second most put up in a half by a visiting team at the Petersen Events Center. Notre Dame once scored 46 in a half against the Panthers.

“I felt like we were going to be able to pull it out the whole game,” Myles said. “That was my attitude coming into the game.”

Pitt turned the ball over nine times, and the Broncs took advantage, scoring 19 points off turnovers. Although the Panthers outrebounded Rider 43-19, the Broncs weren’t intimidated inside — points in the paint were tied at 32.

“I think the reason we were so successful in the points of the paint category was that we were able to take it around [their frontcourt] instead of trying to go through,” Dempsey said.

He said the Broncs came into the game wanting to use their big men to draw Pitt’s frontcourt to the perimeter.

Robinson — who finished with 22 points and six rebounds — said he tried to play smart and make plays inside. Gibbs led the way for Pitt with 24 points, while Woodall recorded his second consecutive double-double with 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.

Four Rider players reached double figures. Myles scored a game-high 20 points, while Stewart added 18. Novar Gadson and Jeff Jones contributed 17 and 15 points, respectively.

Dixon said the Panthers have plenty of work to do, particularly defensively. “This better not be our best, let’s put it that way. And I’m sure it’s not,” he said.