Pitt Wins Big East Opener

Sam Young scored 21 points and had several big blocked shots down the stretch to lead the Pitt men's basketball team to a 70-64 win against Cincinnati in an opening-round game at the Big East Tournament Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Pittsburgh (23-9) advances to the quarterfinals to face second-seeded Louisville (24-7) Thursday night at 7. The Cardinals beat Pitt 75-73 Feb. 24 at the Petersen Events Center.

"So many teams have been plagued by injuries, and we've had Palacios and Padgett,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Pitt has had Cook and Fields, but Levance is back now. And he's really coming around now. He's playing very well at the point, moving the ball around.

"By the time the NCAA (Tournament) rolls around he'll be back to being who he is, one of the best guards in the country. And Pitt is a very dangerous opponent for anybody, because they're strong in all phases in the game. With Young and Blair and Ramon ... they're going to be tough.''

Sam Young's performance against the Bearcats (13-18) off-set the effort by Cincinnati sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn, who finished with 30 points and in one 10-minute stretch in the second half scored 20 straight points.

Senior Ronald Ramon hit three 3-pointers late and finished with 12 points, while senior Keith Benjamin added 15 points and junior Levance Fields had 10 for Pitt. Freshman DeJuan Blair had just two points and struggled throughout.

Rashad Bishop added 11 points and Jamual Warren 10 for the Bearcats, who wrapped up their season with six straight losses, including an embarrassing 96-51 route by Connecticut in their regular-season finale.

The Panthers, who have played in the last two Big East title games and six of the last seven, have now won six of their last seven Conference tournament games. Pitt led 31-25 at halftime and never really got much breathing room, mostly because Vaughn wouldn't let it happen.

When Fields hit consecutive 3-pointers with less than 10 minutes to go, Vaughn answered with four straight treys, the last one from the top of the key and well beyond the NBA 3-point line to cut Pitt's lead to 56-54 with 6:52 left.

Young answered with a couple of free throws, then a put-back two minutes later to push the lead back to seven with 5:09 remaining.

The Panthers have been at their best late in games, sporting a nifty 22-0 record when leading with less than five minutes left. But the overmatched Bearcats and Vaughn didn't make this one easy. Fields had a strong floor game with six assists and 6 of 10 free throws.

"You need to have a driver, and Fields certainly drives their offense,'' DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. "He and Ronald, they're probably he last guys you would pick on a Big East team.

"And I don't mean that as a negative. But they just don't have the size that you would go for. They have overcome that and have played very well for Pitt. And Fields certainly seems to be all the way back as this team's floor leader.''

Vaughn's three-point play with 1:11 left made it 64-60, and his two free throws with 41.3 seconds remaining made it 67-64.

But after a Fields free throw, Vaughn drove the lane with just under 20 seconds left and had his shot swatted away by Young.

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