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Wagner (7-3) at (15) Pittsburgh (11-1)



Friday, December 23rd, 8:00 p.m. (et)

The Sports Network

By Frank Haynes, Senior College Basketball Editor

FACTS & STATS: Site: Petersen Events Center (12,508) -- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Wagner 4-1, Pitt 7-1. Away Record: Wagner 3-2, Pitt 2-0. Neutral Record: Wagner 0-0, Pitt 2-0. Conference Record: Wagner 1-1, Pitt 0-0. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads, 1-0.

GAME NOTES: The 15th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers play their final non- conference game of the regular season tonight, as they welcome the Wagner Seahawks to the Petersen Events Center.

Wagner, which has already played a pair of Northeast Conference games (1-1), is a solid 7-3 on the campaign. The Seahawks did however, have a modest two- game win streak snapped the last time out, as they dropped a 70-69 decision at home to Lehigh nearly two weeks ago. This game marks the second of the season that Wagner will have faced a ranked opponent, the other also coming against a Big East Conference foe in defending national champion Connecticut back on November 14, and that game wound up in favor of the Huskies (78-66).

With the exception of an 86-76 home loss to Long Beach State, Pittsburgh has been perfect on the season. The Panthers, who have won nine straight since that minor speed bump, are 7-1 at home this year, a staggering 154-13 in the Petersen Events Center which opened for the 2002-03 season, and they are the winningest team in the Big East over the last decade. Coach Jamie Dixon's club took care of visiting St. Francis-PA on Tuesday, 71-47, it what was its most dominant defensive effort of the season. Pitt will open league play at Notre Dame next Tuesday.

Pittsburgh won the only previous encounter with Wagner, beating the Seahawks by a final of 87-61 in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

Wagner has enjoyed success at the offensive end of the court this season, averaging 74.8 ppg in hitting 44.3 percent of its field goal attempts and better than 37 percent of its three-point tries. The team boasts three double- digit scorers in Jonathon Williams (13.9 ppg), Tyler Murray (13.4 ppg) and Latif Rivers (12.9 ppg), and a fourth, Chris Martin (9.4 ppg) who is close to joining the ranks despite coming off the bench in all 10 games thus far. No player averages more than 4.9 rpg, and the team is nearly dead even in rebounding margin overall. Defensively, Wagner is permitting 65.6 ppg and the Seahawks come up with more than 18 turnovers per outing. Williams scored 18 points to lead four players in double figures, but Lehigh still managed to prevail in a one-point decision back on December 10. Wagner shot 50.9 percent from the floor, but missed 11 of its 15 three-point tries, while the Mountain Hawks drained eight treys despite a 39 percent overall shooting effort.

Statistically speaking, Pittsburgh's scoring averages are comparable to that of its opponent tonight, but there are glaring differences in other areas, and those are the areas the Panthers are likely to exploit as they play their final tune-up before kicking off what will be another challenging Big East campaign. Pitt puts up 77.9 ppg while allowing 65.2 ppg, and the team has three double-digit scorers and five guys in all netting at least 8.5 ppg. Ashton Gibbs is the leading scorer with his 17.5 ppg, and he has had to carry more of the scoring load since backcourt mate Tray Woodall (14.1 ppg, 8.3 apg) went down with an injury a couple of weeks ago. Down low, Nasir Robinson (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Lamar Patterson (9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) have been the team's workhorses, but it was center Dante Taylor that came through in the recent rout of St. Francis-PA, as he produced 14 points and eight boards to lead the way. Patterson added 11 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Panthers, who made half of their total shots (28-of-56), despite missing nine of their 11 three-point heaves. A resounding 42-21 rebounding advantage, a 13-3 edge in points from the foul line, and the fact that the Red Flash hit just 35.2 percent of their field goal attempts were instrumental factors in the outcome as well.

The Seahawks have enjoyed a nice run to this point in the season, and they may challenge for the NEC crown this year. That said, the Panthers are clearly the better team in this matchup, and even without Woodall, they should be able to control matters long enough to earn another comfortable victory.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 74, Wagner 63

12/23 10:42:51 ET