PITTSBURGH – Ronald Ramon’s 3-pointer finished off a first-half run that gave No. 4 Pittsburgh an early lead and the Panthers wore down Delaware State with their size and depth, winning 67-50 Tuesday night.

Aaron Gray, the 7-foot center who was the Big East’s preseason player of the year, scored nine of his 17 points during the breakout start that gave Pittsburgh (2-0) a 23-11 lead. Gray had eight rebounds and proved a difficult matchup for Delaware State (1-1), an NIT team last season that has only one starter taller than 6-6.

Mike Cook, an East Carolina transfer, added 13 points and 6-9 Levon Kendall and Antonio Graves had 10 each. Ramon hit three 3-pointers for his 9 points.

Aaron Fleetwood and Jahsha Bluntt had 10 each for the Hornets, who were only 7-of-27 on 3-pointers while shooting 35 percent (19-of-54) to Pitt’s 51 percent (24-of-47).

Whenever Delaware State tried to make a push to get back into game, Pitt responded with a flurry or a momentum-stopping basket. The Hornets cut it to 34-27 late in the first half, but Levance Fields hit a 3-pointer off Gray’s pass with 3 seconds left before halftime.

Delaware State got within 39-30 early in the second half, but Pitt scored 11 of the next 15 points to make it 50-34.

The final score might not have been as one-sided as the Panthers would have liked, but they were never seriously pushed in winning their 10th consecutive home opener. They are 38-1 at home against non-conference opponents since moving into the Petersen Events Center in 2002 and have never lost to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team in 15 games.

Delaware State isn’t a marquee opponent, but is part of an upgrading of Pitt’s once-soft early season schedule. The Panthers moved to play better teams after being seeded only fifth in their NCAA regional last season despite reaching the Big East tournament championship game during a 25-win season.

The Hornets were 21-14 last season and are favored to win their third consecutive MEAC regular season title, despite a tough schedule. Tuesday’s game was the first of 14 in a row on the road for the Hornets, who don’t play at home again until Jan. 13 and have only 10 home games all season.

The game was Jamie Dixon’s 100th as Pitt’s coach. He has a 78-22 record in four seasons.

AP-ES-11-14-06 2124EST



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