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RMU set to give Pitt a run

| Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011

La Salle coach John Giannini, whose team lost at Pitt, 73-69, on Tuesday, made this observation the day after Thanksgiving.

"They are as tough as anyone we've played this year," he said. "You can believe what you want. That is a relentless, hard-working, outstanding basketball team."

"They" isn't Pitt. "They" is Robert Morris.

Robert Morris is 0-29 all-time against Pitt, but when the teams tip off at 5 p.m. today at Petersen Events Center for their annual cross-town meeting, it could be more of a fair fight.

Robert Morris (4-1) has won two in a row since a 66-60 loss at Penn, including Friday's 51-44 victory over La Salle at the Palestra that inspired Giannini's glowing postgame assessment.

"Anyone who plays against them is going to struggle to score and struggle to outwork them," Giannini said. "We are not soft. We have some tough guys. But I think Robert Morris has the highest level of toughness."

No. 17 Pitt (4-1), a 78-58 winner over Penn as part of the Hoop Group triple-header at the Palestra, will be without starting small forward Lamar Patterson (suspended) and, possibly, starting center Dante Taylor, questionable with recurring headaches.

Sophomore center/forward Talib Zanna (knee), who left Friday's game midway through the second half, also could be hobbled.

Freshman center Khem Birch posted a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in his first career start Friday. Sophomore J.J. Moore (12 points, six rebounds) will make his second start at small forward.

"We saw good steps (Friday) in the right direction," coach Jamie Dixon said. "I'm obviously not satisfied with where we need to be. But I'm excited about the progress."

Robert Morris beat La Salle despite shooting 28 percent from the field (14 for 50). The Colonials held a 45-30 rebounding edge, including 15-7 on the offensive glass, and limited La Salle to 3 of 22 from 3-point range.

"Rebounding doesn't always have to do with muscles or size or any of that," Robert Morris second-year coach Andrew Toole said. "A lot of it is just effort. It's something we work on, try to build and try to recruit because we have guys who are relentless."

Many of the players know each other from the summer league. Pitt's Nasir Robinson and Robert Morris' Russell Johnson won a state championship as teammates at Chester High School.

"We are going to play hard in practice and get ready for (Robert Morris) and just play our hearts out," Moore said.

The teams' early-season schedules are dotted with similar opponents.

Robert Morris beat Rider by 26; Pitt won by eight. Robert Morris beat La Salle by seven; Pitt won by four. Robert Morris lost to Penn by six, Pitt won by 20.

"We feel like going into Pitt we can win," Robert Morris guard Velton Jones said. "It's not just because we're playing Pitt or a Big East team. We feel it doesn't matter. We go into every game thinking we can win it."

Robert Morris planned to watch the first half of the Pitt-Penn game before taking a chartered bus back to campus in Moon.

"We don't have the charter (plane) that Pitt has," Toole said. "We will have to grind it out on the turnpike. But we're OK with that. It would actually be awkward for us if we had to go on a charter. We wouldn't know how to act. We'll get on our bus, (our driver) will drive us back home, and we will be all set to go."

Additional Information:

The game

Robert Morris (4-1) at No. 17 Pitt (4-1)

5 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center

Pitt Panther Television (Comcast 188)/The Fan (93.7 FM)

Series: Pitt leads, 29-0

Of note: Pitt is 69-0 all-time against Northeast Conference opponents.

Players to watch

Robert Morris: Russell Johnson, Jr., F -- Averaging 9 points and 5.6 rebounds, including 12 points and seven rebounds against La Salle on Friday.

Pitt: Nasir Robinson, Sr., F -- Averaging 16 points and 4.2 rebounds, while shooting 70 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line.

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