Rhode Island vs Pittsburgh

No. 5 Pitt opens season by surviving scare vs. URI

CBSSports.com wire reports
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PITTSBURGH -- All summer, his fellow coaches asked Pitt's Jamie Dixon why he agreed to play an opponent like Rhode Island in the season opener. For most of Monday night's game, Dixon was asking himself the same question.

Brad Wanamaker scored 24 points, Ashton Gibbs had 22 and No. 5 Pittsburgh survived an upset scare in the nation's first Division I game of the season, rallying from eight points down to beat the Rams 83-75.

Pitt ended a sluggish first half in the 2K Sports Classic opener by scoring nine consecutive points over the final 1:21 after Rhode Island went ahead 36-28. The Panthers then wore down Rhode Island with their size, defense and the experienced play of the backcourt of Gibbs and Wanamaker to offset the Rams' 14 3-pointers.

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Delroy James scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half for Rhode Island, which trailed 76-74 with 1:41 to play before Pitt finished it off by making seven of eight free throws.

"There's a reason why teams don't want to play them, especially on Nov. 8," Dixon said. "You don't want your first game to be against a team that presses and shoots 3s. They made some tough 3s and kept the game close, but we made free throws and got baskets when we needed to get them."

Pitt won its 14th consecutive season opener, eight under Dixon, and its 48th straight at home against a non-conference opponent. Gilbert Brown added 10 points and redshirt freshman Talib Zanna, starting for the injured Nasir Robinson, had nine points and 11 rebounds in his first college game.

Akeem Richmond scored 16 points and Nikola Malesevic had 13 for Rhode Island, which lost despite making 14 of 31 from 3-point range to Pitt's 3 of 16. The Rams, outrebounded 45-32, lost their 23rd straight to a ranked opponent and still haven't beaten a Top 5 team in 12 years.

Pitt knew Rhode Island wouldn't be the usual rollover opponent that many ranked teams play in their opener, and the Rams -- 26-10 last season while reaching the NIT semifinals -- weren't as their uptempo style and pressure defense kept it close.

"This felt like a tournament game," Wanamaker said. "It was intense, and usually you don't play a team this good in the first game. But I think it will help us."

The Rams' biggest lead came on Will Martell's basket 90 seconds before halftime but, right about then, Pitt began showing why it hasn't won fewer than 25 games each of the last five seasons.

"We wanted to take it right at them but, sometimes, that comes with the territory," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said of the momentum-shifting run.

Gibbs converted a three-point play ahead of Wanamaker's layup. Lamar Patterson's first career basket, a dunk off Wanamaker's feed, gave the Panthers a 37-36 halftime lead, their first since they led 13-11.

"We started making layups," Dixon said. "We charted that we missed nine layups in the first half. From that point on, we made them."

Still, Pitt -- with four returning starters from its surprising 25-9 team of last season -- never led by as many as three points until Gibbs' steal and drive with 15:08 remaining made it 48-45. The teams traded leads nine times early in the second half, with Rhode Island's final lead coming at 50-48 after James made two free throws and one of his five 3-pointers.

Travon Woodall's free throw gave the Panthers the lead for good at 54-53, and they opened leads of as many as eight before two late 3-pointers by James made it close.

"You've got to take what they're giving you, and they were giving us the 3," said James, who was recruited to Rhode Island by new Pitt assistant Pat Skerry.

Dixon likes playing early season exempt tournaments because they give his team extra games during a time they normally would be practicing. But they can create matchups that the coaches of highly ranked teams generally prefer to avoid early in a season; in 2003, Pitt had to rally to avoid losing to Georgetown, Ky., of the NAIA in an exempt tournament.

Pitt was guaranteed of playing in the tournament's semifinals Nov. 18 in New York even before playing Rhode Island. The Panthers play Illinois-Chicago in their second home game of the event Wednesday.

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Brad Wanamaker attacks the basket en route to a 24-point night in the Panthers' season-opening win.  (AP)
Brad Wanamaker attacks the basket en route to a 24-point night in the Panthers' season-opening win. (AP)
Scoreboard
Rhode Island 0-1363975
Pittsburgh 1-0 «374683
RI:D. James 20 Pts
RI:M. Jones 6 Reb
RI:D. West 10 Ast
PITT:B. Wanamaker 24 Pts
PITT:T. Zanna 11 Reb
PITT:B. Wanamaker 8 Ast

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PLAYERS OF THE GAME
PittsburghRhode Island
PITT
B. Wanamaker
RI
D. James
PtsRebsAstPtsRebsAst
24382052
Rhode Island Rams
R. Brooks, F323-60-03136
M. Jones, G313-51-16138
A. Richmond, G315-132-200216
D. James, F286-163-452320
W. Martell, C182-74-46048
D. West, G201-22-211044
B. Eaves, F190-30-25110
N. Malesevic, F134-81-110413
A. Malhoit, G60-00-01100
L. Shengelia, F10-00-00000
B. Vedder, C10-00-01010
O. Outerbridge, FDid Not Play
J. Wilson, GDid Not Play
L. Ruiz Moreno, GDid Not Play
P. Lockridge, FDid Not Play
T. Mabry, FDid Not Play
Totals 24-6013-1629162575
 40.0%81.3% 
Pittsburgh Panthers
A. Gibbs, G378-154-543122
B. Wanamaker, G347-1310-1338024
G. McGhee, C242-40-06034
G. Brown, F232-85-663310
T. Zanna, F204-61-311029
T. Woodall, G243-91-23327
L. Patterson, G-F222-61-14145
D. Taylor, F121-20-03132
J. Richardson, F40-10-00000
N. Robinson, FDid Not Play
N. Rivers, GDid Not Play
I. Epps, GDid Not Play
J. Moore, FDid Not Play
A. Nwankwo, FDid Not Play
C. Wright, GDid Not Play
Totals 29-6422-3040191883
 45.3%73.3% 
Atlantic 10
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
Davidson14-424-835
Dayton13-527-932
Rhode Island13-523-1066
VCU12-626-1015
Richmond12-621-1456
Geo. Wash.10-822-1384
St. Bona.10-818-13121
UMass10-817-1581
La Salle8-1017-16101
Saint Joes7-1113-18178
Duquesne6-1212-19223
Fordham4-1410-21238
George Mason4-149-22222
Saint Louis3-1511-21272

ACC
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
Virginia16-230-47
Duke15-335-46
Notre Dame14-432-616
Louisville12-627-921
N. Carolina11-726-1211
Miami (Fla.)10-825-1365
NC State10-822-1439
Syracuse9-918-1369
Pittsburgh8-1019-1576
Clemson8-1016-15106
Florida St.8-1017-16110
Wake Forest5-1313-19150
Boston College4-1413-19165
Georgia Tech3-1512-19153
Va. Tech2-1611-22228