Pitt Glad To Return "Home''

Despite its overall success in recent seasons under head coach Jamie Dixon, the Pitt men's basketball team has found out that home is where the wins come and victories on the road are a lot tougher.

No. 13 Pittsburgh (15-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big East), with all three losses on the road, hopes to change that trend against St. John's (7-9, 1-4) tonight at 7 at there home away from home, Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"This is going to be another test for us,'' Pitt senior forward Keith Benjamin said. "St. John's is a very good team. They're very scrappy and like to make situations ugly. They like to play a physical, tough game and get into people. So, this is a great time for us to show that we can win a tough one on the road.

"You have to win games on the road, and this is a good time to win one. We know wherever we go in this conference it's going to be a hostile environment, and it's going to be tough to play there. You might not get some of the calls that you might get at home, and you have to be ready for stuff like that.

"But we're going to be ready, and we want to get this next one at the Garden,'' Benjamin added. "We always seem to play good while we're there, and we want to keep our streak alive. It's homecoming for a lot of the guys, and it's just a great place to play. We have a lot of fun there.''

Dixon tries to schedule as many games as he can at Madison Square Garden, the Big East Tournament's home, and the Panthers have already played there once this season. Pitt beat Duke Dec. 20, 2007 and looks forward to this matchup with St. John's.

"We're looking forward to playing St. John's in the Garden,'' Dixon said. "Everybody knows that we try to play in the Garden as much as possible, anytime we can, and we enjoy playing there. It's a great opportunity for our guys to go back home.''

St. John's beat Pitt there in the 2000, 2005 and 2006 seasons, but did not play the Red Storm on the road last year. After winning its first four games, St. John's has gone 3-9 with losses at Syracuse, Connecticut and West Virginia and at home to DePaul in the Big East. It's only win was at home to Cincinnati.

Justin Burrell (12.4 points per game), Anthony Mason Jr. (12.1) and Larry Wright (10.3) lead St. John's in scoring. Burrell (7.3) and freshman D.J. Kennedy (7.0), Pitt frosh forward DeJuan Blair's teammate at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, are the leading rebounders. Eugene Lawrence has 66 assists and averages 9.7 points per game.

"They've got depth inside, and on the outside they've got some guys who can get to the basket,'' Dixon said. "They rebound pretty well from the perimeter, and that's something we stress. So, they play hard, get after you, and we've got to stay with our offense, execute sets and handle their aggressiveness.

"We want to limit their second shots and win the rebounding battle. We want to beat them by 10 or we feel that we lost if we don't do that. So, we've got to take good shots and win the rebounding battle.''

Kennedy was recruited heavily by Pitt, spent a lot of time with the Panthers players and coaches and decided to go to St. John's instead of joining his high school teammate at Pitt.

"It should be a lot of fun going against a guy who's my best friend, like my brother, and after watching his games on TV it'll be good to go up against him,'' Blair said. "It's going to be a little different, but he's going to have to battle. And I expect a tough game from him.

"He had a chance to come here, but he let it go past him. I wish he would have, but he's doing good up there. He's starting and averaging almost a double-double, so he's doing all right at St. John's. And there's nothing I can do about it now, but we're going to move forward and play them (tonight).''

Pitt returns home to face Rutgers Saturday at 6 at the Petersen Events Center.

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