Men’s Basketball: Pitt wins first two games in Ireland by large margins

By Tony Jovenitti

College basketball teams rarely get a chance to compete against professional teams. And it is… College basketball teams rarely get a chance to compete against professional teams. And it is even rarer to see a college team defeat two separate professional teams by more than 40 points.

But that is exactly what the Pitt men’s basketball team did this weekend against the Irish National Team and the South Regional All-Stars in first two of the Panthers’ six games of a 12-day competition trip to Ireland.

On Saturday, the Panthers beat the Irish team 99-54. Several Panthers achieved impressive statistics, including Gilbert Brown’s 22 points and Ashton Gibbs’ 17, Brad Wanamaker’s double-double (12 points, 10 assists) and 10 points from Nasir Robinson.

The Panthers left Pittsburgh on Thursday and flew to Dublin. After some travel issues — the team had too much luggage and equipment to fit on the bus provided and they had to rent a van — the Panthers were off to the city of Cork in southern Ireland. But the group made a brief stop at Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck.

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When they reached Cork, the Panthers wowed a crowd of 1,650 at Neptune Stadium with a Talib Zanna alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lamar Patterson and two Brown dunks.

Pitt made 12 3-pointers on 24 attempts, but the game was played under international rules as designated by FIBA, the International Basketball Federation. The 3-point line is 20 feet, 6 inches, which is three inches closer than the NCAA 3-point line. The free-throw line is also slightly closer. The NCAA charity stripe is 12 feet away from the hoop, and the FIBA line is 11 feet, 10 inches.

The Panthers were 11-16 from the free-throw line.

Yesterday, Pitt defeated the South Regional All-Stars 92-52 in front of 850 spectators at Neptune Stadium. Three Panthers reached double-digits including incoming freshman J.J. Moore, who scored 14 points and made six of nine shots. Zanna had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Brown scored 10 points. Pitt also grabbed 30 offensive rebounds, and 61 total rebounds.

Another incoming freshman, Cameron Wright, scored eight points. Pitt’s third recruit for this year, Isaiah Epps, couldn’t enroll in summer classes and was ineligible for the trip.

Immediately after the game, the Panthers headed back to Dublin to meet with Dan Rooney, Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland, for a reception.

The Panthers will spend the next five days in Ireland’s capital and play two games at Dublin City University, the first of which is tomorrow where the Irish National Team will look for redemption in a rematch. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. Irish time, which is 2:30 p.m. Pittsburgh time.

The Irish National Team has had a turbulent history on the international stage. The team only qualified for the Olympics once, the 1948 London Olympics where they finished in last place and lost every contest by a decisive margin.

In February, Basketball Ireland announced that it was $1.5 million in debt and that they would no longer be playing in international competition. According to The Irish Times, they hope to save and raise enough money in time to compete for the 2012 Olympics, which are also being held in London. The games against Pitt are expected to help that cause.

Pitt will play at Dublin again on Wednesday against the Dart Killester Club Team, which is a senior professional team that plays in the Irish Superleague.

Then the Panthers will head to Northern Ireland, to play the Melbourne Tigers, an Australian professional team that features former Syracuse player Eric Devendorf, and the English National team. Both games will be played at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.