Home, Sweet Home, For Pitt

Just how good is Pitt's home-court advantage at the Petersen Events Center?

In the six years that the 12,508-seat arena has been open, the Pitt men's basketball team is 91-8 with an unblemished record against top-five opponents. That mark moved to 4-0 after the Panthers' 69-60 win against Big East foe Georgetown Monday night.

"Our crowds have been unbelievable,'' Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "You watch games on TV and see all the empty arenas, but our place was full for Lafayette and our place has been full all year long. I think, sometimes, we take for granted our fans, but we have an unbelievable atmosphere.

"We had recruits here, and we're just very fortunate. The fans have taken to these players over the years, and I think they feel a part of us, and we feel a part of them. I think, at times, we do take it for granted. But when you look around the country, people our envious of our situation here and our crowds, and I know it will continue.''

It's important to note that Pitt's football recruits have been impressed by the atmosphere at the men's basketball games. How could they not be excited to hear their names chanted over and over again by Panthers' raucous student section, also known as the Oakland Zoo.

The group was in rare form for the Georgetown game, sporting signs that targeted several topics from red-hot football recruit Terrelle Pryor to the Allegheny County drink tax. The section is vicious toward the opposition as well, but Georgetown coach John Thompson III wouldn't admit it made a difference.

"The crowd wasn't a factor,'' Thompson said. "The team at the other end was the factor. That's not to take anything away from the crowd. Their fans, everyone in this league knows, are terrific. But it was the five guys they had on the floor that beat us.''

Thompson must have forgotten the crowd's role in leading Pitt senior point guard Ronald Ramon to a basket during the first half. As the shot clock began to expire, the fans counted down loudly: "Five, four, three, two, one,'' and then Ramon fired up a long 3-pointer to beat the clock. Two Hoyas were unable to make a difference, as the ball floated through the hoop.

"They definitely helped me out,'' Ramon said. "I looked up at the clock and by them counting it down, I didn't have to look back up. So, it was a good thing.''

Pitt's boisterous crowds also were a factor in the hoop team's wins against No. 4 Syracuse, 76-69, Jan. 29, 2005; No. 5 Connecticut, 75-68, Feb. 15, 2004; and No. 5 Notre Dame, 72-55, Jan. 6, 2003. During the game against Georgetown, however, the crowd seemed to be louder than ever.

And it was critical in pushing the Panthers to possibly its biggest win in recent memory when it's considered that the newly configured lineup has only been together a few games, and Pitt (15-2, 3-1) is down to just six players making major contributions with only eight scholarship players.

"I'm not too big on ranking wins, because I think they're all important,'' Dixon said. "I haven't really thought about it, but I'm proud of how they played and I'm proud of how they have practiced. That's what is most important. They understand that we've got to continue to get better in practice.

"And when there's nine guys out there or eight, they understand that they still have to get better and have made a commitment to continue to improve. So, we've gone shorter (in practice) and with less contact, but we've got to get better and take that as an opportunity to get better.''

Pitt is in action again 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.

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