PITTSBURGH — All summer, his fellow coaches asked Pitt's Jamie Dixon why he agreed to play an opponent like Rhode Island in the season opener. For most of Monday night's game, Dixon was asking himself the same question.
Brad Wanamaker had 24 points, Ashton Gibbs had 22 and No. 5 Pittsburgh survived a scare in the nation's first Division I game of the season, rallying from eight points down to beat the Rams 83-75.
Pitt ended a sluggish first half in the 2K Sports Classic opener by scoring nine in a row over the final 1:21 after Rhode Island went ahead 36-28. The Panthers then wore down Rhode Island with their size, defense and the experienced play of the backcourt of Gibbs and Wanamaker to offset the Rams' 14 3-pointers.
Delroy James scored 17 of his 20 in the second half for Rhode Island, which trailed 76-74 with 1:41 left before Pitt finished it off by making 7 of 8 free throws.
"There's a reason why teams don't want to play them, especially on Nov. 8," Dixon said. "You don't want your first game to be against a team that presses and shoots 3s. They made some tough 3s and kept the game close, but we made free throws and got baskets when we needed to get them."
Pitt won its 14th straight season opener, eight under Dixon, and its 48th in a row at home against a nonconference team.
NO. 13 ILLINOIS 79, UC IRVINE 65: Reserve Brandon Paul scored all of his 18 on 3-pointers to lead the host Illini in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic.
MARYLAND 105, SEATTLE 76: Sean Mosley had 21 points, Jordan Williams had 17 points and 15 rebounds and the host Terrapins pulled away in the 2K Sports Classic.