GAME NOTES: The 15th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers continue their trek through the non-conference portion of their schedule, and tonight's opponent will be the VMI Keydets of the Big South Conference.
VMI has suffered three straight losses to fall to 3-4 overall this season, and all four of their true road games have resulted in defeat. The club is off to an 0-2 start to Big South play after Saturday's 114-81 setback to Charleston Southern.
The only loss to date for the Panthers came back on November 16, and they have won five in a row since then to move to 7-1 overall. Pittsburgh's schedule has been rather weak thus far, but the squad did score a quality win on the road on Saturday by beating Tennessee by a 61-56 final. Clearly, many challenges await once SEC play begins, as opponents such as Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt await.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Pitt and VMI on the hardwood.
The Keydets play a fast and furious style of ball that enables them to score 83.7 ppg. Unfortunately, they are surrendering 90.9 ppg on 54.3 percent shooting from the field by opponents, as the defensive play to date has been poor to say the least. VMI has been dominated on the boards by an average of nearly 10 rebounds per contest and have committed 122 turnovers as well. Leading the Keydets offensively is Stan Okoye with 17.1 ppg on 57.3 percent shooting, while teammate Keith Gabriel is close behind with 17.0 ppg Ron Burks (12.0 ppg) rounds out a trio of double-digit scorers for the squad. In the lopsided loss to Charleston Southern on Saturday, the Keydets shot a solid 50.0 percent from the field, but they surrendered 60.9 percent shooting and were outscored 17-8 from the foul line. Okoye led the way in defeat with 18 points.
Ashton Gibbs is the top offensive performer for the Panthers, as he is netting 18.8 ppg despite his 38.8 percent shooting from the floor. Tray Woodall has actually shot a far more efficient 52.4 ppg en route to his 14.1 ppg, and he has handed out 58 assists already. Unfortunately for Woodall and the Panthers, he is expected to miss the next few weeks after suffering a groin injury in the win over Duquesne last week. The third and final double-digit scorer on the roster is Nasir Robinson with 13.3 ppg on the strength of his stellar 69.1 percent field goal efficiency. The Panthers are generating 78.0 ppg while allowing 67.9 ppg to opponents, and they are outrebounding foes by over 10 boards per contest. Against Tennessee, both Robinson and Gibbs tallied 16 points, and Robinson ripped down 12 boards as well. The Panthers won that game despite a 3-of-9 effort from the foul line in large part because they committed only six turnovers.
There is no question that Pitt will cruise to victory over VMI. The Keydets will put up little resistance at the defensive end of the court as usual.