The No. 5 Pitt Panthers overcame a sloppy first half against Rhode Island Monday at the Petersen Events Center to win their season opener, 83-75.

Pitt missed 9 layups to go along with 7 turnovers, while the Rams (0-1) capitalized with 14 points off turnovers in the first half to lead 36-28 with 1:31 left until halftime. That’s when Pitt (1-0) went on a 10-2 run that changed the complexion of the game.

Brad Wannamaker and Ashton Gibbs each scored 4 points in the final minute and-a-half and Lamar Patterson ended it with a slam dunk as time expired to give the Panthers a 37-36 edge at the half.

“Probably the biggest difference was we made layups from that point on in the second half,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I joked that we did layups drills at halftime so that’s why we got better execution.”

Whatever happened at halftime worked, as the mistakes and miscues were more limited in the second half.

“We have a belief and theory that if you miss layups it oftentimes turns in to transition baskets the other way,” Dixon said.

“That’s what happened, for the most part. We always seemed to be matched up with different guys and trying to recover in transition. I think we just started making some layups, is really what happened (in the second half).”

Wannamaker was the most consistent for Pitt on the night, scoring 24 points and adding 8 assists. He shot 7 of 13 from the field and made 10 of 13 from the free throw line. Much of Wannamaker’s production came from creating his own shots – driving to the hoop and finishing, which many of the Panthers struggled to do.

Gibbs wasn’t far behind Wannamaker in production, putting 22 points on the board and hitting two 3-pointers.

“We missed a lot of easy points,” Gibbs said. “That’s something we probably won’t do next game and for games to come. We got this first game under our belt and it’s a relief. Now we just gotta keep moving.”

Rhode Island didn’t seem overly fazed by Pitt’s first-half run, coming out in the second half and quickly grabbing the lead back. All told, the Rams took the lead five different times in the second half, the last of which came with 14:10 left.

The Panthers grabbed a 51-50 lead at that point on a 3-pointer by Gilbert Brown and never looked back. Pitt’s second-half lead grew to as large as 8 points with 5:08 left and the Panthers overcame three late 3-pointers by Rhode Island’s Delroy James to win.

“They made some 3s – tough 3s – and that’s what really kept the game close,” Dixon said. “At the end of the day, we made plays at the end, made free throws and ran clock at the end and executed and finished plays and got baskets when we needed to.”

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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