Home, Sweet Home, For Pitt

DeJuan Blair has payback on his mind, and what better place for the Pitt men's basketball team to accomplish that goal than the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, its home away from home in New York City.

The No. 7 seed Panthers (22-9, 10-8) face No. 10 Cincinnati (13-17, 8-10) Wednesday night at 7. Pittsburgh was 1-1 against the Bearcats in the regular season. Pitt also lost to No. 2 seed Louisville, which faces the winner Thursday night at 7, and has losses to No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Connecticut, No. 5 West Virginia (1-1), No. 6 Marquette this season and No. 8 Villanova (1-1) as well.

"We've got a lot of paying back to do, and we're going to get it done,'' freshman DeJuan Blair said. "The sky's the limit for us. That's our dream, and I believe we can do it. I'm not scared of any team, and we're not scared of any team, either. We're going to go hard on every team we play against, and we're going to play hard every night.

"It's going to be physical, and it's going to be tiring. But it's going to be a lot of fun, too. There's going to be a lot of smiles, and if we just have fun we'll be all right. We want to win, the whole team wants it, so we're going to go out there and play like that. For us, we do feel comfortable playing in the Garden. We're 2-0 there and have a great record, getting to the finals.

"We've done very well,'' Blair added, "(and) we've done what really nobody else has consistently done at the Big East Tournament. So, we do enjoy playing there. We feel comfortable there and call it our second home. I'd rather be playing there. It's our second-favorite place to play after playing at home at the Petersen Events Center.''

Pitt's success at Madison Square Garden, wins against Duke and St. John's this season and runs to the Big East title game during the past two Conference tournaments, isn't lost on the competition either.

"Pitt, we've had two extremely tough battles with the Panthers,'' Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Jamie is one of the best coaches in the country, and it's going to be extremely difficult to beat them in the Garden. My guys haven't been to a concert in the Garden, let alone play a game there.

"And they've played about 10 or 20 games there over the last three or four years, because they win games and are around in the Big East Tournament for quite a while because they've got a great program. And they've also got some kids from New York. So, it's definitely going to be a challenge for us.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has the Panthers practice at nearby Baruch College, one of 10 senior colleges of The City University of New York, the largest urban public university in the United States. Baruch is located in the Park Avenue South area of Manhattan.

"It's a nice gym and a nice facility,'' Dixon said. "You don't have a lot of options there. You can struggle to find gyms, but that one works out pretty well for us. (And) I know our guys like going to play at the Garden.

"We have a lot of New York guys, and they like going back home. So, there's a sense of that, but now it's time to play. There's not much practice. You just play games. There's the crowd and the atmosphere, and that's important, too.''

Pitt senior Keith Benjamin is a New York-native, matriculating at Pitt from Mount Vernon High School, and he can't wait to return home.

"It's fun every time we go there, for some of us to see our family and friends, but also just to play at the greatest place in America to play basketball,'' Benjamin said. "So, it always manages to re-energize us when we get a chance to go there. We're definitely ready for the grind of this week.

"It's going to be tough, but we're ready for it. And it's a time for us to get a little revenge. Everybody that we lost to, we'll get a chance to play them again. So, we have that to look forward to as well. It's going to be an exciting week. And I believe what we did in the Big East has prepared us for what we'll face.

"We had a tough schedule,'' Benjamin added, "playing a lot of games in a few days -- every other day -- but that's what happens with 18 conference games. ... So, this is what you live for. We're playing for a championship, and we're focused on playing our best basketball this week at the Garden.''

And it's an opportunity for the Panthers to excel in their second home.

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