NCAA BK

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 - 7:00 PM ET
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VMI-Pittsburgh Preview

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With its point guard sidelined, youthful Pittsburgh relied on star senior Ashton Gibbs to carry an ever bigger load its last time out.

Coach Jamie Dixon, however, is hoping to see some of his younger players pick up the pace going forward.

Gibbs and the 15th-ranked Panthers try for a sixth consecutive win when they meet visiting VMI for the first time Tuesday night.

Pittsburgh (7-1) was handed a shocking 86-76 home loss by Long Beach State on Nov. 16 but has since won five in a row by 10.0 points per game. Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the year, leads the team with an average of 18.8 points.

While it wasn't all pretty, Gibbs carried the Panthers on Saturday in their first game without Tray Woodall, who is expected to miss at least the next month with an abdominal tear.

In a season-high 38 minutes, Gibbs compiled 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting along with six assists and five rebounds during a 61-56 victory at Tennessee.

"We got the ball in (Gibbs') hands a lot. I hope we can get away from that - it's too much and it's too many minutes," Dixon said. "But, again, we had to shift on the fly here.

"He played with a lot of confidence and I think that spread to the team. I think that was the biggest thing. We've got who knows how many freshmen out there, and I think his confidence kind of spread to the team as the game went on and those young guys made some good plays."

In addition to Gibbs' big game, senior Nasir Robinson stepped up, posting 16 points and a season-best 12 boards.

With Woodall out, freshmen guards John Johnson and Cameron Wright played a season-high 18 and 25 minutes, respectively. Johnson recorded eight points and three assists while Wright, who earned the start, failed to score while going 0 of 6 from the floor.

The duo committed just one turnover and earned high praise from Dixon.

"People had written us off without Tray being in there, but we've got to get these guys better. Our young guys are freshmen. I thought John played really well and I thought Cameron played well.

"He defended and that's what we needed from him. He took care of the ball; that's what we needed from him."

Pittsburgh, which shot a season-low 42.2 percent versus the Volunteers, could be in line for a bounce-back performance against VMI (3-4). The Keydets have surrendered an average of 102.7 points over a three-game skid, during which their opponents are shooting 60.7 percent.

VMI is coming off a 114-81 loss at Charleston Southern on Saturday. The Keydets, who trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half, scored first out of the break to cut the lead to six but were blown out the rest of the way.

"I don't have an answer for the slow starts, but we'll figure one out," coach Duggar Baucom said. "I've never been part of a game where we we're down by six with 19:50 to play and lose by 33, but we'll address it and try to get better."

Forward Stan Okoye, recording a team-high 17.1 points per game, scored 18 on 8-of-12 shooting. Guard Keith Gabriel, however, was held to a season-low five points - 12.0 below his season mark.

In their only matchup against a Top 25 opponent since 2007-08, the Keydets fell 107-74 at then-No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 23.

Pittsburgh has won 60 of 61 non-conference home games.

Tagged: Virginia Military, Pittsburgh, Ashton Gibbs, Cameron Wright

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