Panthers hope to continue dominance over Red Flash

The 15th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers take aim PA to the Petersen Events Center for a conference affair.

St. Francis opened the 2011-12 season 0-6, but has since rallied to win three of its last four games, the most recent of which being a 66-61 decision over visiting American University on December 10. The Red Flash have already played a pair of Northeast Conference bouts, winning both over Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson.

If not for a shocking home loss to Long Beach State in mid-November, Pittsburgh would be one of the few remaining undefeated teams left in the country as coach Jamie Dixon's club has responded to reel off eight consecutive victories, the most recent of which being a 69-55 verdict over visiting South Carolina State this past Saturday. Despite their impressive record thus far, the Panthers haven't been as dominant as many thought they would be at the start of the season, and they will surely face plenty of obstacles once the Big East Conference slate gets underway at Notre Dame next week.

This bout marks the 29th meeting between Pittsburgh and St. Francis-PA, and the Panthers have never lost to the Red Flash. In fact, Pitt has never lost to a team from the NEC, going 69-0 all-time.

Despite shooting a solid 48.1 percent from the field, the Red Flash are far from an explosive offensive team, averaging just 62.8 ppg. The three-point shot is falling at a 36.2 percent clip, but a 62.1 percent showing at the foul line coupled by a minus-6.3 rebounding margin has hurt the team more times than not. Scott Eatherton is the SFU's most consistent all-around performer, as he is averaging 14.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Anthony Ervin has made the most of his limited time on the floor this year, turning in 10.4 points and 3.9 caroms per contest in just under 27 minutes per outing. Eatherton was nearly perfect from the field in the win over American last time out, hitting 6-of-7 shots and converting 9-of-11 free throws en route to 21 points. He grabbed nine rebounds as well for St. Francis, which wound shooting 48.9 percent from the floor, and making good on 5-of-10 long-range attempts. Ollie Jackson nailed four treys to finish with 14 points, and Ervin came off the bench as usual to chip in a dozen. Tightening the reins out on the perimeter will be something the Red Flash hope to do tonight, as American drained 10 treys.

Pittsburgh is averaging 78.5 ppg on the strength of its 50 percent shooting effort from the field overall, which includes a 41.4 percent showing from beyond the arc. Defensively, the team yields 66.9 ppg, with foes shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and committing a low 9.8 turnovers per tilt. Pitt does however, come up with nearly 13 rebounds per game more than the opposition on average, and the team boasts three double-digit scorers in the form of Ashton Gibbs (18.3 ppg, 3.5 apg), Tray Woodall (14.1 ppg, 8.3 apg) and Nasir Robinson (13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Woodall, however, is out indefinitely with an injury. Lamar Patterson matched his career high with 16 points in the recent win over South Carolina State, while Gibbs tallied 14 and Talib Zanna logged a double- double consisting of 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Panthers, who made good on nearly half of their total shots (.491), but struggled from three-point range (5-of-23). A 41-29 edge on the glass certainly helped keep SC State at bay, as did the fact that Pitt limited the visitors to just 38.9 percent field goal efficiency.