MILWAUKEE — Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown scored 17 points apiece and Pittsburgh avoided becoming the latest Big East powerhouse to get knocked off in the first round of the NCAA tournament, overcoming a slow start to rout Oakland 89-66 on Friday in the West Regional.
Brown's strong performance off the bench was a boost for the third-seeded Panthers (25-8), who are making their ninth straight NCAA appearance and have advanced to the round of 16 in five of the previous eight. They'll try to continue that streak Sunday against No. 6 seed Xavier, which defeated 11th seed Minnesota 65-54 earlier Friday.
Big center Keith Benson scored 28 points for the 14th-seeded Golden Grizzlies (26-9), who played much of the first half without starting forward Derick Nelson after an elbow from Panthers center Gary McGhee opened a cut over his left eye.
Nelson returned to start the second half with a bandage under his black headband, but it was too late for the Grizzlies. Benson's points came while wearing a wrap on his right wrist and thumb from a previous injury.
With Pittsburgh already leading 39-26 at halftime, Nasir Robinson scored six points in the first 2:26 of the second half, giving the Panthers a 45-27 cushion on an athletic baseline move for a layup. The Grizzlies weren't able to mount a serious challenge the rest of the way.
Longtime Oakland coach Greg Kampe said Thursday that he would rely on defensive stopper Johnathon Jones to contain Ashton Gibbs, the Panthers' leading scorer.
Indeed, Jones and the Grizzlies held Gibbs scoreless in the first half, and he finished with seven points on 1-of-7 shooting. But Gibbs' teammates took up the slack, with six players scoring in double figures.
The Panthers appeared to be yet another Big East team in danger of an upset early on, one day after Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame were beaten by lower seeds.
But things began to fall apart for the Grizzlies after the unsettling injury to Nelson, who took what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow from McGhee with about 10 minutes left in the first half, leaving him lying motionless on the floor and dripping blood.
Nelson eventually got up and walked to the locker room, escorted by trainers.
Nelson was averaging 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this season. His absence on the floor – along with a third foul on backup forward Will Hudson later in the half – left the Grizzlies undermanned.
After trailing the Grizzlies for most of the first 13 minutes, the Panthers' perimeter players took control and began driving to the basket. Oakland couldn't respond.
Down by five shortly after McGhee's elbow to Nelson, the Panthers went on an extended 19-2 run, including three-point plays on back-to-back possessions by Dixon and Brad Wanamaker.