Men’s Basketball: Pitt edges Rhode Island

By Alex Oltmanns

The Pitt men’s basketball team managed to pull out a narrow victory in its season opener… The Pitt men’s basketball team managed to pull out a narrow victory in its season opener against Rhode Island last night, a shaky beginning for a team picked to win the Big East.

The Panthers, who trailed most of the first half, allowed their opponents to stay in the game until late in the second, but held off the hot-shooting Rams team to come away with a 83-75 victory last night at the Petersen Events Center.

In the first college basketball game of the 2010-11 regular season and the first of four 2K Sports Classic games benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer, the Panthers tested themselves against a Rhode Island team that went 26-10 last year.

“They came out strong and they came out hungry, and we didn’t really come out as strong as we wanted to,” Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs said. “It really showed, especially in the beginning.”

For a stretch, it seemed as if Rhode Island — James Delroy in particular — wouldn’t miss a single 3-pointer.

Delroy led the Rams with 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and as a team, Rhode Island shot just more than 45 percent from beyond the arc, making 14 3-pointers.

“They hit a lot of threes on us,” Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said. “We have to pick it up on the defensive end.”

The Panthers were led by Wanamaker’s 24 points, with Gibbs picking up 22.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Talib Zanna brought down 11 rebounds while scoring nine points in his first career game.

“It was a great experience for me,” Zanna said. “I like rebounding, and I try and do what I do best.”

Down seven with 2:13 left in the first half, Pitt made a run, and Gibbs was able to collect a steal and feed Lamar Patterson, who was all alone, for a thunderous jam to give Pitt a 37-36 lead at the buzzer.

The play, which gave Pitt its first lead since 12:15 remaining in the first half, seemed to give the Panthers momentum going into the second half.

“That probably was the key part of the game, that last two minutes where they came out and took the lead on that last buzzer,” Delroy said.

But Pitt didn’t do itself any favors, turning the ball over 14 times and missing some easy layups, something that the players said could be attributed to first-game jitters.

“We missed a lot of easy points, and that’s something we probably won’t do the next game,” Gibbs said. “But we got this first game under our belt, it’s a relief and now we just have to keep moving.”

The Panthers will play the second game of the 2K Sports Classic on Wednesday against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

But this first game of the season in November certainly had the feel of the ones that really matter in March.

“It felt like the tournament. This was a pretty intense game, especially against a really good team early on in the season,” Wanamaker said. “I think it’s going to help us out in the long run.”