PITTSBURGH – VMI head coach Duggar Baucom knew what his team was in for Tuesday night against No. 15 Pittsburgh.
And while the Keydets fell 97-70 for their fourth straight loss, Baucom said the experience should help them regroup for the rest of their Big South schedule.
"Our guys get to watch Ohio State and Pitt on TV," Baucom said. "To come in here and play in this great arena is a good experience. I thought that if we can come out and execute like that against Pitt, then we think we can do that in our league and that gives us confidence."
Jordan Weethee led VMI (3-5) with 18 points and Stan Okoye added 14, but a cold start doomed the Keydets to playing catch-up all game with the bigger, stronger Panthers (8-1).
Ashton Gibbs scored 20 points and Pitt set a school record with 60 rebounds while winning its sixth straight. Nasir Robinson added 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists for the Panthers, who shot 49 percent from the floor and made a season-high 13 3-pointers while easily outscoring the uptempo but overmatched Keydets.
Tuesday was the finale of VMI's four-game road trip, with conference matchups against Coastal Carolina and Charleston Southern sandwiched between games against the second-ranked Buckeyes and the Panthers.
Only one of the four losses was by single digits, and any hopes of duplicating a stunning upset at Kentucky in 2008 evaporated after VMI missed its first seven shots and needed six minutes to score four points, a problem for a team that likes to get the score into the 80s to have a shot.
"Yeah, that's never good for anybody, but especially us," Baucom said. "We're much more of an offensive team, and I credit (Pitt) with that. They pushed us off the 3-point line and contested everything we had. It had more to do with them than it did with us."
The Panthers roared to a 57-33 halftime lead to set a record for the most points scored in a half at the Petersen Events Center.
Still, VMI showed some fight, using a 13-4 burst to start the second half to pull within 61-46.
"We're a streaky team and we know we can catch fire quick," Okoye said. "So we kept confidence in our system and in the second half, you saw we went on a nice little run. We just hope to keep that consistent, especially for the rest of the season."
After the Keydets pulled to within 15, Gibbs went to work. The senior missed seven of his first eight 3-point attempts but hit five in the final 16 minutes as the Panthers cruised into a showdown with Oklahoma State at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
"I was hoping he wasn't going to catch fire like he did," Baucom said. "It's hard to remember that 1 for 8 because I remember the 5 for 6 after that. He picked his time and made some huge shots."
The game is a one-off of sorts for the Panthers, as it is for nearly all of VMI's opponents.
The Keydets have only one player over 6-foot-7 and try to make up for it by turning things into a track meet.
The Panthers are still in the midst of finding themselves, though they showed their typical grit while holding off the Volunteers on the road Saturday, a revenge game of sorts after Tennessee beat them down the road at the Consol Energy Center a year ago.
Coach Jamie Dixon substituted liberally — Pitt's reserves actually outscored VMI 34-33 in the first half — as whoever he plugged into the lineup produced.
J.J. Moore hit four 3-pointers in the half on his way to 16 points while John Johnson showed flashed at both ends of the floor while competing with freshman Cameron Wright for the starting point guard spot in place of injured Travon Woodall, who will miss the next month with a groin strain.