Pitt 69, Villanova 57

For the second straight game, it appeared as though the Pitt men's basketball team let a large lead evaporate with poor shooting and shoddy defense, but this time the Panthers were quick to turn things around in a 69-57 win against Villanova Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center.

No. 18 Pittsburgh (17-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big East) trailed 38-37 with less than 14 minutes to play, but went on a 22-3 run to avenge its Jan. 6 loss at Villanova. Junior forward Sam Young overcame a rough first half to finish with 15 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and a scintillating tomahawk dunk to cap the Panthers' big run and give them a 59-41 lead with about 4:30 remaining.

Freshman center DeJuan Blair stayed out of foul trouble and tallied his eighth double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, as Pitt out-rebounded Villanova (13-6, 3-5) 43-32. Junior forward Tyrell Biggs (13 points) and senior point guard Ronald Ramon (10) also scored in double figures for Pitt, while senior guard Keith Benjamin had seven points and a career-high seven assists.

"We played a hungry team tonight, and their effort kind of just wore us down,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "With Blair up front and Biggs on the offensive glass, as the game went on, they hit some big shots and just wore us down.

"When we played them the first time, they were still trying to find their way and really weren't settled in, but with Ronald Ramon running the show and Benjamin ... it's like Levance Fields was never here. So, with Biggs off the bench, Bradley Wanamaker and even Gary McGhee, they're a very good team.''

Although Pitt coach Jamie Dixon praised Wanamaker and McGhee for their contributions off the bench, only Biggs made a definitive difference. The Panthers dominated Villanova in the first half and should have put the Wildcats away, but 12 turnovers kept the game close. Pitt raced to a 16-7 lead, as 'Nova made just 1 of 12 shots and was out-rebounded 12-5, due to nine miscues by the Panthers.

Villanova slowly got back in the game and eventually took the lead less than seven minutes into the second half with a 9-0 run. Pitt had just one field goal, a Ramon trey, but Young drove the lane to break a 38-38 tie, and Ramon nailed another from long range to put the Panthers back in control.

"We out-rebounded them, held them under 40 percent (shooting), and we defended well,'' Dixon said. "We got after it and got into them ... and really had some great performances. I think we got contributions from all eight guys against a very good team in Villanova.

"We've been a low turnover team, but against this team we seem to turn it over at a higher rate. They weren't really pressing that much today, but we were making bad decisions in transition. Those were the turnovers, not in half-court or press situations, but in transition.''

Pitt's big run during the latter portion of the second half came with Ramon on the bench with four fouls. Benjamin ran the point flawlessly for the Panthers. It's that versatility that makes Pitt a better team and could be a benefit if Fields can return anywhere near the form he displayed early this season.

"We've talked about Keith running some more point with both of them in there, and we did it a little bit tonight and have to continue to do that,'' Dixon said. "Then, with (Ramon) out, obviously, he's running the point and did a great job with seven assists and just two turnovers. And we made some good decisions.

"We played Gilbert a little bit at the two and three. Sam's played the three, four and five, at times, and Tyrell has played different spots as well. Bradley, he's played the one, two and three, so ... with eight guys, we've got to do that. We've practiced at those spots, but with the guys out and the foul trouble that can happen, we need to use everyone's flexibility.''

Benjamin has been especially versatile, moving from shooting guard to the point with veritable ease during a game.

"With Ronald in foul trouble, the guys looked to me, I guess,'' Benjamin said. "So, you've just got to elevate your game and the game goes along. I knew I had to run the team from that point on, so it was time to grind it out.

"We shot the ball better earlier in the Big East games, but the shots are tougher now. So, we had to play better defense and play tougher, and that toughness is why we were able to get through it tonight.''

Villanova point guard Scottie Reynolds led all scorers with 26 points, while forward Antonio Pena added 10 and six rebounds.

Pitt has a tough road game against Connecticut Saturday at 1 p.m. in Hartford.

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