No. 20 Pittsburgh (14-2, 2-1) quickly stretched a 33-30 halftime advantage to double figures during the first five minutes in the second half, and Pitt's lead reached an apex of 17 points, 71-54, with 3:41 remaining. Freshman center DeJuan Blair made 3 of 4 free throws in an 18-second sequence to get there.
Seton Hall (10-6, 0-3) got within eight points, 73-65, some two minutes later. But the Panthers made the majority of their free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon finally emptied his bench with 11.2 seconds remaining, as freshman forward Gary McGhee and walk-ons Maurice Polen and Tim Frye all entered the game for the first time.
"It was the kind of game that I'd thought it would be, a grind it out game (where) we weren't able to pull away as much as we wanted to because they keep pressing you and keep getting after you,'' Dixon said. "But we were fortunate to get them without (injured guard Paul) Gause. He's an important part of their team, so they were a little short-handed in that regard.''
Gause, Seton Hall's junior defensive standout, is out 2-3 weeks with a broken bone on his non-shooting (right) hand. The Pirates also got just 1-for-7 shooting from leading scorer Brian Laing in the second half, as the senior forward injured his right rib cage just a few minutes after the intermission.
Laing still finished with 17 points, thanks to a hot first half, while guard Eugene Harvey added 25 points in 33 minutes. However, Seton Hall had few answers for Pitt's front-court dynamic duo of junior Sam Young (28 points, eight rebounds) and Blair (20 and 14).
"They really are interacting and enjoying playing with each other from early this season,'' Dixon said. "But they know each other now and have a good feel for one another now on the offensive end, and I think they'll just continue to get better and better on the defensive end as well. So, they're good players with great hands who can score and pass, and that's a good thing to start with.''
Young took advantage of a mismatch against several Pirates who tried to defend him, and Pitt's leading scorer at 18.4 points per game was equally as effective outside as he was on the inside. Young canned 9 of 16 shots, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range, to go with three assists, one block, one steal and three turnovers in 36 minutes.
"Brian Laing was a little shorter than me, so I was able to get some points under the basket,'' Young said. "And I was hitting outside, too, so I was pretty hard to contain.''
Blair was awesome inside, and he basically stayed out of foul trouble despite finishing with four personals after getting a couple tough ones in a short span. Among his 14 rebounds were 11 on the defensive end. He also had an assist, two blocks and a steal in 33 minutes. His primary replace, junior Tyrell Biggs, had eight points and 10 boards with an assist and a block in 19 minutes. Biggs also played some for redshirt frosh Gilbert Brown, who was in foul trouble throughout and did not score.
"The points are going to come for me, so I just want to make sure I go after the rebounds,'' Blair said. "My teammates do a good job getting me the ball, so I just have to worry about going after every rebounds. Every game, that's what I want to do, and I just have to keep going.
"They didn't come inside too much, but our defense could be way better. So, we're just going to have to work harder than that. And we have Georgetown on Monday, so our defense has got to be the best. We've got to be better than we have been, but we're going to get there.''
The Panthers got little scoring from senior guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin in the first half, but both played a decent floor game and picked it up in the second half. Benjamin finished with 12 points, six assists and three steals, but he had three first-half turnovers (five overall) and missed all three shots he took in the first half.
"I was just more patient and more decisive in the second half,'' Benjamin said. "I came out at the beginning, and the adrenalin was pumping for me from the last three games. And I just wanted to get out there and take some shots. But I didn't take the shots that I probably should have taken that probably would have gotten me in a rhythm faster.
"And I took some bad ones that put me in a funk in the first half, but the guys told me in the locker room not to worry because they would get me some open looks. That's what they did, and I knocked them down. I usually get hyped and can still perform well, but I should have been more aggressive in the first half and took some shots when I was open.''
Ramon canned 4 of 8 treys and scored 14 points with eight assists and just two turnovers. Dixon said he has 28 assists and just 10 turnovers in four games as Pitt's point guard, and that's nearly a 3-1 ratio.
Freshman Bradley Wanamaker played just 11 minutes and went 0-for-3 from the field with two rebounds, an assist, a blocked shot and one turnover. So, Dixon used just a seven-player rotation against Seton Hall with Wannamaker and Biggs coming off the bench.
Pitt 84, Seton Hall 70
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