Robert Morris still can't beat Pittsburgh.
The Colonials fell to 0-30 all-time against their crosstown foes with an 81-71 loss on Sunday night, as the Northeast Conference power struggled to find any rhythm against the bigger, deeper Panthers.
Pitt held Robert Morris star Velton Jones to 10 points on 1-of-14 shooting and the Colonials never threatened after falling behind by double digits midway through the first half.
"''We need to play a full 40 minutes of good basketball and not just 20 minutes," Jones said.
Robert Morris (4-2) had trouble on the glass against Pitt forwards Khem Birch and Talib Zanna, who combined for 25 rebounds in addition to Birch's six blocks.
"Zanna was playing volleyball by himself up there a couple of times," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "I thought too many times tonight as I watched I saw our guys watching and unfortunately they're participating in the game and I'm just a spectator on the sideline."
Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 21 points while Travon Woodall had 12 points and 10 assists as the Panthers improved to 69-0 all-time against members of the NEC.
Cordon Williams led Robert Morris with 19 points but the Panthers (5-1) clamped down on Jones, who came in averaging 19.7 points but managed barely half that total.
The Panthers threw several players at Jones, and his teammates struggled to pick up the slack. Zanna and Birch had a lot to do with it, as they controlled the lane when it mattered.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has brought Birch along slowly, though the way Birch and Zanna are playing it may be difficult to keep them off the floor when Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson return on Wednesday against Duquesne.
Both players sat out their second straight game, though for vastly different reasons. Patterson is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules while Taylor continues to struggle with migraines.
The duo should be back on Wednesday when the Panthers face Duquesne, though minutes may be hard to come by considering the way Birch and Zanna are playing.
Birch had 15 points, 10 rebounds and played with boundless energy as Pitt rolled to a 20-point win in his first start on Friday at Penn. He wasn't quite as aggressive offensively against the Colonials, though he didn't have to be considering the way his teammates were shooting the ball.
Some of the confidence must have rubbed off on Birch, who knocked down a rare 17-footer early in the second half.
By then the Panthers were cruising. Pitt never let Robert Morris get within striking distance following a 16-4 burst midway through the first half.
The Colonials, who have dominated the NEC over the last four seasons, tried to slow down the pace early. They worked the clock on offense and made the Panthers work to get open looks, forcing Pitt into a shot clock violation on one possession and a desperation 3-pointer on another that came nowhere close to going in.
The strategy worked for a few minutes, or about as long as it took Pitt to hit the gas.
The Panthers broke it open using their signature pressure defense, taking control midway through the first half behind Wright, who turned two Robert Morris giveaways into a layup and a dunk, one that earned him a technical foul for swinging on the rim before letting go.
Williams knocked down two free throws as a result, but it hardly slowed the Panthers.
Pitt slowly kept extending the lead, playing efficiently on offense and aggressively on defense, something the Panthers have lacked at times. The Panthers were lit up in a loss to Long Beach State two weeks ago and had problems getting stops in wins over Rider and La Salle.
There were no such issues against the Colonials, who shot just 37 percent from the field and only briefly got within single digits over the game's final 30 minutes.
Yet the Colonials continued to scrap, extending the final minute with the kind of gritty play that's made them one of the top teams in the NEC over the last five years.
Robert Morris put up six shots during one possession and finished with 17 offensive boards even though Pitt held a 39-35 advantage on the glass.
Those kinds of numbers have to get down quickly for the Panthers, who have games against Oklahoma State and Tennessee looming in the first half of December.
"(Our defense) is getting better, but it's not where it needs to be," Dixon said. "It's been fun watching it improve ... but we're not satisfied. We need them to finish off a little bit better."
Robert Morris still can't beat Pittsburgh.
Pitt Football: Panthers beef up lines in 2013 recruiting class
There’s a formula Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst likes to use when building a team: start with the inside and go from there. Given a year to figure out what he’s got on his hands with the Panthers, Chryst hit the recruiting trail this winter with one goal in mind.
‘Sad Day”: College football guru Beano Cook dies at 81
Beano Cook, the college football commentator with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport he dearly loved, has died. The 81-year-old Boston native had worked for ESPN since 1986 and was the sports information director at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, from 1956 to 1966. The school announced Thursday that Cook had died in his sleep.
‘God was watching over him’: Derrick Burns is finding a way to adjust to life without football
Everything about Derrick Burns screams football player. The broad shoulders, muscular legs — even the football he constantly carries around with him — make it obvious that the young man with the easy smile has got game.
Louisville knocks off Pitt
Russ Smith scored 18 points, Kyle Kuric added 17 and No. 17 Louisville held on to beat Pittsburgh, 57-54, on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12) cut the lead to one and had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Tray Woodall missed a jumper and senior Ashton Gibbs’ shot from just inside halfcourt as time expired missed off the back iron.
Backyard Basketbrawl: West Virginia storms past Pittsburgh
West Virginia center Deniz Kilicli doesn't know if he'll get chance to play Pittsburgh again. The next time the rivals face each other on the basketball court, Kilicli could be long gone. The burly center from Turkey didn't miss a chance to give the Mountaineers perhaps the final word in the Backyard Brawl.
College Basketball: Ex-Aliquippa star Pope leads Seton Hall past Pitt
Seton Hall rode some unexpected shooting by a freshman and some steady plays by its seniors to a sorely needed win. Freshman Aaron Cosby made five 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 19 points, while Herb Pope had 19 points and 14 rebounds.
College Basketball: South Florida ends Pitt winning streak
South Florida’s Hugh Robertson combined a perfect night offensively with a stellar defensive performance that helped the Bulls rebound from their worst-ever Big East loss.
College Basketball: Woodall leads Pitt past Villanova
Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs is a happy man now that his backcourt mate, junior Tray Woodall, is back and healthy in the starting lineup. He's almost as happy as Woodall, who recovered from a groin/abdominal strain to turn in one of his best performances of the season.
College Basketball: Pitt falls to Louisville for eighth straight loss
Pittsburgh hoped the return of point guard Tray Woodall and a raucous home crowd would help them finally snap their nearly monthlong losing streak and earn their first Big East win of the season.
College Basketball: Lifeless Pitt loses fifth straight game
Eli Carter scored 14 points, Dane Miller added 11 points and 12 rebounds and Rutgers crushed reeling Pittsburgh 62-39 on Tuesday night.
- More Pitt Headlines
- Pitt Football: Panthers beef up lines in 2013 recruiting class