VMI falls on the road at #17 Pitt

The #15-ranked Pitt Panthers used a 29-rebound advantage on the glass and put five players in double figures, en route to a 97-70 win over the VMI Keydets Tuesday evening at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Nasir Robinson led the way for the homestanding Panthers (8-1), as he posted 19 points and 14 rebounds, while guard Ashton Gibbs added 20 and 6, respectively. Pitt outscored VMI (3-5) 57-33 in the opening half, propelled in large part by a 35-14 rebounding advantage over the first 20 minutes. Overall, the Panthers outrebounded the Keydets 60-31, including 22-11 on the offensive glass.

Freshman Jordan Weethee had 18 points to lead the Keydets, including 10 in VMI’s strong second half, but Pitt’s 28 second chance points could not be overcome.

In this, the first meeting between the programs, Pitt jumped ahead 6-0 in the opening moments, as VMI misfired on its first seven shots. The Keydets got on the board at the 15:35 mark, making it a 6-2 game, but the home team gradually extended its lead. The advantage reached double-digits at the 13:42 mark, 14-4, and after a Weethee triple cut it to seven, Pitt launched a 14-2 run to push its cushion out to 28-9 with 10:58 left in the opening half.

Robinson made it a 21-point game with two free throws at the nine minute mark, 32-11, and the deficit hovered around 20 for much of the rest of the half. VMI closed to within 17 on multiple occasions, but Pitt would not allow the Keydets any closer. In fact, after VMI pulled within 18 on a Michael Sparks three-point play at the 5:52 mark, the Panthers went on a 14-5 run to take their largest lead of the opening half, 55-28.

The visitors closed the half by scoring five of the final seven markers, accounting for the 57-33 halftime score. Pitt shot 48.8% from the floor (21 of 43) in the first 20 minutes, while the Keydets hit 13 of 36 overall (36.1%). The Panthers, however, hit eight three-pointers to just three for the Keydets, and also had 17 second chance points. Weethee led the Keydets in scoring with eight points, while Robinson had a double-double in the first half, scoring 11 and grabbing 10 boards.

The Keydets came out strong in the second half, closing to within 15, 61-46, after a 13-4 run to open the period. Stan Okoye and Keith Gabriel combined for all 13 points in the spurt, and VMI took advantage of three Pitt turnovers to aid its cause. The Panthers, however, answered with a 9-2 run, capped by a Gibbs trey, and held a 70-48 lead with 12:10 remaining.

As was the case in the opening period, VMI was able to cut the deficit under 20 on several occasions, but Pitt held off all efforts at another Keydet run. The closest the visitors got the rest of the way was 17, 72-55, with 10:35 remaining, and Pitt took the lead over 20 points for good with 5:16 to go on a Robinson basket. The nation’s #15 team outscored the Keydets 12-6 the rest of the way, accounting for the final margin.

Pitt finished the game 35 of 73 overall (47.9%), while VMI was 25 of 68 from the field (36.8%). The Keydets held the edge in points off turnovers, 16-14, thanks to forcing 14 Panther miscues, as well as a 13-4 edge in fast break points. In addition to Weethee, Okoye (14) and Gabriel (12) were in double figures for VMI.

VMI basketball will return to action Thursday, taking on Central Penn College in the Keydets’ first game in Cameron Hall since Nov. 19. Game time is set for 7 p.m.


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