Pitt's Ashton Gibbs tosses a pass around Rider's Jeff Jones Saturday at Petersen Events Center. The Panthers had 27 assists against just six turnovers.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The prettiest play of the game was also the most unselfish play. It started with a perfect bounce pass from Brad Wanamaker, who led Nasir Robinson into the open court for an apparent breakaway layup. But when Robinson noticed a Rider defender bearing down on him, he deftly tossed a behind-the-back pass to a streaking Dante Taylor who brought the patrons at the Petersen Events Center out of their seats with an authoritative dunk.
One artistic piece of basketball illustrated Pitt's 87-68 victory against the Broncs to a 'T.' The highlight reel play was one of 27 assists for the Panthers in a game when expert passing shone bright above all else.
The passing display came three days after a ragged offensive performance against Duquesne, when the Panthers had more turnovers (19) than assists (17). After two days of listening to coach Jamie Dixon harp on better offensive possessions, the Panthers went out and executed their offense as well as they have all season.
The Panthers (9-0) shot 53 percent from the field and had only four field goals that came without an assist. By compiling 27 assists, the Panthers tied a season high in that category and strengthened their position as the top passing team in the Big East. They lead the conference with 20 assists per game.
"The last couple of practices we've been keying on making the extra pass and hitting the open guy right away," said senior guard Brad Wanamaker, who had a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists. "Today we showed some [improvement] on what he preached in practice. We found open guys and guys hit open shots."
Wanamaker was one of four Pitt players in double figures. Junior guard Ashton Gibbs also scored 16 points. Taylor had 12 points and Gilbert Brown 11.
Mike Ringgold, Wanamaker's high school teammate at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia, paced Rider with 24 points. Ringgold's individual highlights aside, this was a game the Panthers controlled from start to finish with their ability to score easy baskets.
"We were able to run good offense," Dixon said. "That was the thing I was most excited about. That's what we focused on this week. Our turnover number has been higher than usual. We addressed it and did a good job with 27 assists and six turnovers. Our guys really stepped up."
Wanamaker is averaging almost six assists per game and his teammates fed off his playmaking ability Saturday afternoon. Travon Woodall had four assists and Gibbs and Brown each had three. The Panthers were passing up good shots to get even better attempts.
"I think we definitely realize it because you see more and more people who might take an open shot, and they pass it to the next man," Taylor said. "With Brad getting 11 assists, other people fed off it. And we came out with 27 assists and six turnovers. That was really good."
It wasn't a great game for Pitt's defense. Rider shot 50 percent from the field, the highest percentage for a Pitt opponent this season. Fortunately for the Panthers, they were allowing the Broncs, one of the top outside shooting teams in the nation, more layups than 3-point shots.
The Broncs entered the game shooting 44 percent from behind the 3-point arc, but only made 7 of their 21 attempts. Leading scorer Justin Robinson, who came into the game shooting 51 percent from 3-point range, was only 2 for 8 from behind the arc and was held to 11 points, four below his season average. Robinson was scoreless at halftime, when Pitt led, 42-29.
"They were really focusing on him," Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. "He missed some decent shots, but he didn't really get any clean looks. If you're going to play one of the best teams in the country and your best scorer doesn't score in the first half, that makes it tough."
NOTES -- Senior center Gary McGhee had seven points and 10 rebounds. It was the third time in the past four games McGhee grabbed 10 or more rebounds. ... Gibbs was 4 for 8 from 3-point range and has connected on 46 percent (30 for 65) of his 3-point attempts for the season. ... Pitt's six turnovers was a season low. ... The Panthers won the rebounding battle, 35-25.