With birthday boy Ronald Ramon, who turned 22 Monday, and Keith Benjamin scoring 18 points each, the No. 15 Panthers never trailed in a 69-60 win against Georgetown Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.
"I think it's definitely a big win for us,'' Ramon said. "Give credit to Georgetown, they're a great team, but I think we just wanted it more. We went out there and took care of ourselves, and my teammates did a great job around me. They played hard and made sure everybody got shots and played great defense.''
Benjamin made just one first-half basket, but he canned 4 of 7 from the field in the second half to key Pitt's dominance after the intermission.
"It's a very big win,'' Benjamin said. "Like I've been saying, we're just going to go out there and keep playing hard no matter how many people (are injured). We're going to look to win. Nobody here wants to lose. ... We have some great leaders on this team, and everyone else is following. We've come together as a team all over again, and we're playing very well right now.''
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon believed the guard play was the difference, as Ramon and Benjamin combined for just one turnover in 36 minutes each. The Panthers only had eight turnovers overall against Georgetown.
"Our guards stick out,'' Dixon said. "Ronald and Keith have been tremendous. I'm not at all surprised, but very proud of them. ... We're a low turnover team, one of the lowest in the country, and we always have been.
"So, that's something that we do and do well, but they are a team that's all about guarding and contesting shots.''
Georgetown is ranked among the nation's best in opponent's field-goal percentage, but Pitt shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and scored 42 points to maintain a solid advantage. Panthers junior Sam Young tallied nine points and six rebounds with two assists and a steal to go with just one turnover in 36 minutes, but he shot just 3 of 13 from the field.
That's why Pitt's guard play was so critical. In the other big matchup of the night between power centers in the Big East Conference, Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair tallied 15 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes against 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, who had 12 points and 10 boards in 30 minutes. However, half his points came from the free-throw line.
"It was a good game, and (Hibbert) is a good player,'' Blair said. "I didn't think he was that big, but I think I handled myself pretty good. ... I got a couple steals and was able to get some points inside and a couple baskets outside.''
Hibbert appeared to attempt to intimidate Blair at the outset by refusing to shake the big freshman's hand prior to the opening tip, but that didn't have any effect at all on Blair. And he appreciated the opportunity to get physical with the much taller and heavier Hibbert.
"I don't care if he doesn't want to shake my hand,'' Blair said. "That's nothing. It won't make me or break me, and I didn't care if he shook it after the game, either. ... I came to Pitt and the Big East because I like to bang.
"Aaron (Gray) didn't hit him hard enough in the Big East championship (last year), so I tried to out-physical him. It was hard, but I did it. And it was a good matchup. I liked playing against him.''
Hibbert wasn't as complimentary about his Pitt counterpart in the middle.
"I wasn't playing at my best today, and we didn't play as well as we could as a team,'' Hibbert said. "I didn't do a very good job on the offensive end, either. I have to be more aggressive than I was tonight.''
Pitt (15-2, 3-1) jumped out to an early lead and maintained an advantage that hovered around 4-5 points, but the Hoyas (13-2, 3-1) nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 27-26 at halftime. Jonathan Wallace fired one up from just inside midcourt to get Georgetown close, but Pitt quickly stretched the lead in the second half with treys from Ramon and Benjamin.
"The early part of the second half, they hit some shots, and we had some shots that didn't go down,'' Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "But I thought both teams came out a little sloppy, too, in the second half. ... I don't know that it was a more critical time than any other, but there were quite a few important stretches and that was just one of them.''
Georgetown had a 14-5 run midway through the second half to get within three, 47-44, but Blair and Benjamin came up with three-point plays to give Pitt a cushion it never really relinquished. Freshman forward Gilbert Brown and Benjamin had a chance to put the Hoyas away with around four minutes remaining, but both missed the front end of one-and-one situations.
Junior forward Sam Young, Benjamin and Ramon didn't let that deter them, as the trio canned two free throws each to push Pitt's lead to double figures. That advantage reached an apex of 13 points with 53 seconds remaining, 66-53, as Benjamin nailed a baseline jumper. Benjamin capped his solid performance with 3 of 4 free throws in the waning seconds to seal the win.
Pitt is at Cincinnati Saturday at 4 p.m. and then travels to St. John's Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., as Big East play continues. The next home game is against Rutgers Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.
No. 15 Pitt 69, No. 5 Georgetown 60
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