Pitt Down To Eight Scholarship Players

There's no rest for the Pitt men's basketball team.

After traveling to Tampa to beat South Florida for its initial Big East victory, the 20th-ranked Panthers (13-2, 1-1) face Conference foe Seton Hall (10-5, 0-2) Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center

This will be the fourth game without injured starters Mike Cook (torn ACL) and Levance Fields (fractured left foot). Fields is expected to return by the end of the season, but Pittsburgh is playing pretty well without the two.

"A lot of people act like we've fallen completely off the board,'' Pitt forward Sam Young said. "That's not the case at all. We've got a tradition to uphold here, and we still have players.

"Of course, we miss the guys who are hurt, and we wish we had them. They aren't here, though, and that doesn't mean we can't win without them. We proved that (against South Florida).''

Young's development has been especially rewarding for Pitt this season. The junior forward leads the Panthers with 17.8 points to go with 6.9 rebounds per game. Young, who scored a game-high 22 points against South Florida, averages a team-high 29.6 minutes per game as well.

While Fields and Cook are still the No. 2 and 4 scorers for Pitt, other players have stepped up like DeJuan Blair. The freshman center leads the Panthers with 9.6 rebounds, and he's third with 11.7 points per game. Senior Keith Benjamin has started the past three games and averages 8.5 points per game.

Benjamin had a career-best 20 points against USF, the second time in three games that he reached that mark, while redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown added 10 points, four assists and four rebounds. It was his fourth straight start for Cook and fourth game in double-digit scoring.

"I don't even know where to begin because all eight guys that we played did a great job,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Some guys who hadn't played much in the past are playing more, and that's out of necessity.

"The way they're playing, people are probably wondering why I wasn't playing them. We're a new team now with the injuries that we have, but we're still a good team. We're still working hard, and we're getting better.''

Pitt's depth improved, as freshman forward Gary McGhee played a career-high 12 minutes and tallied six points, four rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot in his most extensive action this season. He was needed because Blair got in first-half foul trouble. McGhee played in just four games and 20 total minutes prior to his performance against USF, but he had not played since Nov. 27 against Boston University. He had just three points and seven rebounds total.

"Coach is always telling me to be ready,'' McGhee, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound bruiser, said. "I've been waiting my turn. My number was called, and I was ready. It feels great to get the opportunity to showcase my skills.

"I was able to show how hard that I work on my game. It's a big confidence boost for me. I showed I can do it against the guys in the Big East. I'm just going to keep working hard.''

McGhee likely will be used against the bigger, more rugged centers in the Conference like Georgetown and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. Pitt faces the Hoyas Monday night at 7 at the Petersen Events Center. He also will be playing more because junior Cassin Diggs, who hasn't done much in his brief appearances, is still battling injuries. Diggs has a groin and hip injury that is not improving, and Dixon noted that he could be out for an extended period.

Seton Hall and Pitt meet for the 47th time, and he Panthers hold a 27-19 advantage in the series which began in 1956. Pitt has won seven of the last 10 meetings, including a 3-1 record in games played at the Petersen Events Center. Last year, the Panthers won 71-68 at Continental Airlines Arena.

Pirates senior Brian Laing recently surpassed 1,000 career points and ranks second in the Big East with 19.1 points per game. Sophomore Eugene Harvey is seventh with 16.7 points per game. Senior Jamar Nutter is only 39 points away from Laing in the 1,000-point club and averages 9.7 points per game, while freshman Jeremy Hazell averages 11.3 points per game.

Junior guard Paul Gause will miss 2-3 weeks to mend a broken bone in his non-shooting hand (right). He averaged 8.6 points and 3.7 rebounds. Sophomore John Garcia averages 7.9 rebounds per game, which ties him for 13th in the Conference, but Seton Hall has used a three-player platoon at center. Junior Augustine Okosun has nine of 15 starts at the position, but Garcia has seen the majority of the minutes and freshman Mike Davis has a start as well.

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