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Gray helps Pittsburgh pull away from stubborn Robert Morris

Nov 30, 2006 - 2:27 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Aaron Gray played up to his size to help Pittsburgh avoid a gigantic upset.

Gray had 21 points and 15 rebounds as the third-ranked Panthers pulled away for a 67-53 triumph over Robert Morris.

Mike Cook added 11 points and Levon Kendall 10 for the Panthers (7-0), who trailed with 13 minutes remaining before finally resembling one of the nation's top teams.

The 7-foot Gray, who scored 13 points in the second half, converted an acrobatic three-point play with 8:20 remaining to cap a 12-2 run and give the Panthers a 53-44 advantage. He had seven points in the surge.

Gray made 10-of-13 shots, helping the Panthers overcome a woeful 2-of-17 performance from 3-point range.

"That's been our game plan all season - get the ball inside, force the double- or triple-team and kick it back out," Gray said. "We came into a huddle at one point and we weren't really making the 3s. We were getting great looks, but sometimes you have nights like that. Overall, we just realized what it takes to win a game and we did tonight what we needed to do to win and that was the most important thing."

Pittsburgh cruised the rest of the way en route to its fifth straight 7-0 start. The Panthers opened with 15 consecutive wins last season.

The Panthers also improved to 26-0 all-time against the Colonials and to 64-0 against Northeast Conference teams.

"I thought we played very well tonight against a very good team," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "I was not at all surprised at how good they were; I think they'll win the Northeast Conference."

Derek Coleman scored 12 points and Tony Lee and Jeremy Chappell 10 apiece for the pesky Colonials (4-1), who were able to hang around despite an off night from leading scorer A.J. Jackson.

Jackson, who came in averaging 24.0 points, was limited to just six on 2-of-13 shooting.

Coleman converted on a drive to the basket with 13 minutes remaining to give the Colonials a 42-41 lead. But the Panthers, who won 24 of the previous 25 meetings between the teams by double digits, finally began to assert themselves.

"I thought our guys really fought a great team in Pittsburgh," Robert Morris coach Mark Schmidt said. "We had the lead with 13 minutes left in the game; I think that says a lot about our players and the effort that they gave. At the seven or eight-minute mark, it was a six-point game. We had a shot but Pitt overpowered us the last six or seven minutes and we had no answer for Gray; he was the X-factor."

After trailing by as many as 12 points, the Colonials used a 12-5 surge to end the first half, pulling within 35-30.

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