Pitt 82, Providence 63

The Pitt men's basketball team had its best offensive performance in the season, shooting 58.6 percent from the field, but it was the Panthers defense that keyed a second-half run in an 82-63 win against Providence Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center.

Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4) shot 56.3 percent from the field in the first half, but led by just five, 42-37, and had to turn up its defensive pressure after intermission against the Friars (13-11, 4-8), who shot 57.7 percent. Pitt went on a 21-4 run during the opening nine-plus minutes in the second half to put the game away.

The Panthers stretched that lead to an apex of 23 points, 66-43, on Ronald Ramon's 3-pointer with 9:24 remaining, and Providence had a tough time battling back. The Friars shot just 35.7 percent in the second half, while Pitt made 61.5 percent after halftime and was at 58.6 percent overall.

"They increased the defensive intensity in the second half, and they have a fantastic team defensively every year,'' Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "In the second half, it was evident that they pushed us around at both ends, and they slowly pulled away. We hung in there in the first half because we scored, but in the second half they played tough defense and we missed some shots.''

Sam Young continued the hot shooting that he began during the second half in the previous game, but he burned Providence on a variety of inside moves, athleticism and good shooting. He only took a couple bad shots, made 10 of 14 from the field and finished with 22 points.

"I think I was looking to take the shot this game, but I was looking to take a more high-percentage shot than the last game,'' Young said. "I kind of got into foul trouble a little in the last game, but this game I got into a rhythm by hitting a couple baskets early and I took advantage of it.''

Ramon, who was 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and center DeJuan Blair, 6-for-8, scored 15 points each. Ramon added six assists, while redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown had five. Blair also had seven rebounds, which tied Young for the team lead, after going the first half without one. Keith Benjamin added 10 points and three assists, while freshman Gary McGhee played 10 minutes and had six rebounds and four points. Frosh Bradley Wanamaker played 19 minutes and made 3 of 4 shots to go with four assists and two rebounds.

"It felt good to pass the ball well again, set screens and move it around in our motion offense,'' Ramon said. "We were able to find the guys who were open (22 assists on 34 baskets). We talked about it the past few games and came out and did a good job of it in this game.''

Providence got 15 points from Marshon Brooks and 14 from Jeff Xavier, who nailed three straight treys in the first half, but Pitt switched from Benjamin to Ramon to guard him and he made just one after that.

"We were giving him a little room, and he took advantage of it,'' Ramon said. "We adjusted that and pressured the ball a little bit more. We wanted to get into him and make him put the ball on the floor, instead of setting up for his shot, and that worked a lot better.''

Some believed that injured point guard Levance Fields would return from the broken foot he suffered Dec. 29 at Dayton, but he did not play. Pitt has another practice Wednesday for its game at Marquette Friday night, and that was the game Fields has targeted for a while. So, it might be his first game back.

Young believed that while Fields worked hard the past couple days in practice, he would not be ready yet. However, Young and Ramon agreed that it was only a matter of time before their floor leader would return.

"He's doing a great job, rehabbing and just playing in practice, and we'll be more than happy to see him back on the court,'' Ramon said. "I'm pretty sure he'll be back when he's sure he can go at it 100 percent. He won't go until he can do that, I know when he comes back he'll be back to his normal self.''

While the Panthers have been successful, their schedule is brutal down the stretch. After Marquette (17-6, 7-5), which is battling Pitt for a high seed in the Big East, the remaining games are at Notre Dame Feb. 21, at home to Louisville Feb. 24 and Cincinnati Feb. 26. The Panthers are at Syracuse March 1 and West Virginia March 3 and end the regular season with DePaul March 9.

"We're feeling OK, but you can never get complacent in this league,'' Ramon said. "You've got to come out and take it one game at a time. This game is behind us now, and we've got to come out and be ready for Marquette on Friday. ... We need to come out with the same intensity that we had today.

"I think, confidence-wise, we were down a little bit at the beginning after losing Levance and Mike. But a lot of guys stepped up to show that they can play, so our confidence is a lot higher now. And the guys have really matured a lot during the season since their injuries.''

Georgetown, Notre Dame, Louisville and Connecticut are the top teams in the Big East right now.

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