The Panthers dominated from start to finish in a 68-61 win against Marquette in the semifinals at the Big East Tournament Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City to make a return trip to the title game for the seventh time in eight years.
Pittsburgh (25-9) faces No. 9 Georgetown (27-4) for the Big East championship Saturday night at 9. It's the second straight year that Pitt faces the Hoyas, who knocked off West Virginia, 72-55, in the other semifinal matchup.
"We beat a good Marquette team, and Georgetown is a good team,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But we love to play at the Garden. We'll do anything to play here. We have a lot of New York kids on this team, and their families are here.
"So, we love it here, and we're playing our best basketball right now. We've won six out of our last seven, so we'll show up. We'll be ready to play.''
Sam Young scored 22 points to lead Pitt against Marquette, which played in its first Big East semifinal game. The Panthers' only Big East championship win was against Connecticut in 2003.
Pitt appeared to have its third straight win in the tournament sewn up early, as Marquette (24-9) was without a field goal and scored just two points during an 11:38 stretch at the end of the first half and the start of the second.
The Panthers weren't exactly lighting it up offensively during that stretch, either, but they closed the first half on a 9-2 run and scored five of the first seven points of the second half to take a 40-24 lead with 18:09 to play.
The Golden Eagles chipped away at the lead and got within 56-52 with 7:03 left, as guard Dominic James finally started to score.
However, Pitt's Levance Fields had an assist and two free throws as the Panthers scored six points for a 62-52 lead with 4:33 left. The Golden Eagles had one more run left in them and James scored the first and last points of a 7-0 spurt that made it 62-59 with 1:20 to go.
But Pitt was able to close it out by making six of eight free throws the rest of the way. Ronald Ramon had 14 points, and Fields finished with 12 for the Panthers, who improved to 5-0 at Madison Square Garden this season, including a 2-0 mark during the regular season..
Jerel McNeal had 17 points for Marquette, while Wesley Matthews had 10 and James tallied eight points, all during the final 7:40.
The Golden Eagles missed 16 shots and committed four turnovers during their scoring drought. Their last field goal of the first half came with 9:30 to play.
Marquette shot 31.1 percent for the game (19-for-61), including going 8-for-31 in the first half (25.8 percent).
Pitt's three-game run to the Big East championship game, its seventh in eight seasons, has not been matched in the 28-year history of the Conference. The Panthers beat Georgetown in the only matchup between the two this season, 69-60, Jan. 14 at the Petersen Events Center.
Connecticut and Syracuse are the only schools to rival the Panthers success at the Garden, but neither did it like Pitt. The Huskies got to the title game eight times in a 10-year span from 1995-2004, while the Orange made the title game eight times in an 11-year span from 1980-1990. Pitt now has 18 wins in its past 24 Big East Tournament games.
The Panthers suffered an 18-point loss to Marquette just one month ago. That loss was among the low points for Pitt this season. The victory in front of a sellout Madison Square Garden crowd Friday night, however, had to be among the highlights.
Bring On Georgetown
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