Young Leads Pitt Against Rutgers

The matchup between the Pitt men's basketball team and Rutgers Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center will be televised by ESPN Classic, but games involving the schools have been anything but that as the Panthers have one eight straight in the series.

No. 13 Pittsburgh (16-3, 4-2) has also won 13 straight home games, dating back to last season, and is 91-8 entering its 100th game at the Pete. That doesn't bode too well for the visiting Scarlet Knights (9-11, 1-6).

"We play pretty good at home, that's for sure,'' Pitt junior forward Sam Young said. "But a lot of teams do. It's tough to win on the road, especially in the Big East, but we make it real tough for a team to come in here and beat us with our great fans and with the way we play. It's very tough.''

Young has been spectacular this season, scoring at a rate nearly three times what he averaged last season at 18.6 points with 6.9 rebounds per game. He clearly is Pitt's offensive leader, playing primarily at small forward this season. Young has scored at least 20 points in four of Pitt's past five games, and no other player this decade has had such a prolific scoring run.

Young, at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, is strong, athletic and causes serious matchup problems for the opposition. He is averaging 21.8 points in the past five games and torched St. John's for 26 points Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"Young is a tremendous player,'' St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "He has really improved his game. When he steps out and starts making threes, it makes it very difficult. I think he's the player of the year in our conference right now.''

Young estimated he has played about half of his minutes last night at small forward. When St. John's had a guard defending him, Young took it inside. When he played power forward and had a bigger player guarding him, he stepped outside and showed off his long-range game.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called a lot of plays for Young, but many of his baskets came when he free-lanced, especially in the second half when he was matching St. John's forward Anthony Mason basket for basket in an entertaining portion of the game. Mason led all scorers with 29 points.

"Sam does all that on his own,'' Pitt senior guard Keith Benjamin said. "If you listen to Coach Dixon, he's yelling for him to pull it back out a lot of times. But when Sam gets hot like that, you just have to let him do that kind of stuff. That's what you call playing in a zone. You don't say anything to him when he's playing like that. You just feed off that.''

And in the meantime, Young and the Panthers devour the opposition.

"I feel everybody has a weakness,'' Young said. "And if they do have one, I will exploit it. I'll do whatever I have to do.''

When Young plays small forward, Pitt goes with junior Tyrell Biggs at power forward and freshman DeJuan Blair at center. It gives the Panthers a bigger lineup, and Biggs has some mid-range shooting skills of his own.

"I think that's one of our toughest lineups to compete against, because I can post up, I can shoot, and I can drive,'' Young said. "We've got Tyrell in there, along with DeJuan. That's going to be a tough matchup for a lot of teams to go up against.''

Rutgers gets the next shot at defending Young, who is among the best in the Big East. He was named this week as one of 30 midseason candidates for the Naismith Award as the nation's top player. He is one of four Big East players to make the cut, joining Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody and Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds.

The Scarlet Knights, who are looking to earn consecutive Big East wins and capture a second straight victory against a ranked opponent, are led by sophomore J.R. Inman with 14.2 points per game, while Corey Chandler and Anthony Farmer are at 12.2 and 11.1 points respectively.

Rutgers is coming off an 80-68 home win over No. 18 Villanova this past Wednesday evening. Guards Farmer and Mike Coburn each posted career-highs of 23 points to lead RU to its first victory over a ranked opponent since a 65-56 home defeat of No. 22 Louisville in Jan. 2006. The Scarlet Knights led for the game's entirety, making an impressive 64 percent of their first-half field goals to finish the night shooting 50 percent (24-48). The Rutgers defense, which helped to force 19 turnovers, held the visitors without a field goal for a stretch of 12 minutes, 26 seconds in the second half en route to the win.

Center Hamady Ndiaye turned in another strong defensive effort and blocked three shots. He currently ranks second in the Big East and 10th nationally in rejections. Inman ranks among the Big East leaders in four statistical categories, including scoring (17th, 14.2), rebounds (14th, 7.8), defensive rebounds (10th, 5.60) and minutes played (t-9th, 34.0).

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