Pitt Pummels Oral Roberts

Led by 23 points from junior point guard Levance Fields, as well as a stifling defense, the fourth-seeded Pitt men's basketball team won its sixth straight game Thursday afternoon, pounding 13th-seeded Oral Roberts 82-63 in the first round of the NCAA South Regional at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Pittsburgh (27-9) is in its seventh straight NCAA Tournament, though none of those previous teams have made it past the Sweet Sixteen. However, since the Panthers finished the regular season on a strong note and ripped through four teams in four days at the Big East Tournament, this team could be different.

"Just having the full team out there ready to practice and guys knowing what they have to do now just makes everything better and much easier on the court,'' senior guard Keith Benjamin said. Benjamin finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Pitt held a 45-28 advantage and had 32 defensive rebounds.

"Coach Dixon tells us to be aggressive on every block out and everything we do playing defense,'' Benjamin added. ''(And) it seems like we're out-working teams, being more physical and beating them to the punch on every aspect of the game. And as long as that keeps working, that's what we'll keep doing.''

Pitt gets fifth-seeded Michigan State (26-8) Saturday night at approximately 9:10 Eastern. The Spartans are a physical group, like the Panthers, and proved that in a 72-61 win against Temple in an earlier game in Denver.

Junior forward Sam Young, the star of Pitt's run through the Big East, had 14 points, while freshman center DeJuan Blair finished with eight points and 10 rebounds despite constant foul trouble.

"It was crazy when people were injured, and we were losing,'' Young said. "We struggled, and then guys came back, and it seemed like we took off. At first we struggled because they weren't used to game situations, but when they got back into it, Levance, he became a leader on the team.''

And everybody played better defense. Against ORU, Blair's 265-pound frame made things impossible in the paint for the Golden Eagles (24-9). At one point late in the first half, ORU was 5-for-9 from 3-point range, but just 1-for-16 from everywhere else. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted why Pitt has played such good defense in winning eight of its last nine games.

"It's health, the youth that we had, and the fact that we had to get better,'' Dixon said. "We had to play better than what we were doing.''

ORU guard Robert Jarvis had 16 points, at his average, but most came well after the game had been decided. The Eagles, who won the Summit League tournament to make their third straight trip to the NCAAs, also got 15 points from freshman Andre Hardy, while Moses Ehambe had 13. None were enough.

"We came undone,'' Oral Roberts center Shawn King said. "We couldn't make defensive stops. We couldn't make shots.''

The Panthers ended any hope of an ORU upset early with an 18-0 run that spanned 5 1/2 minutes in the first half and put them ahead 28-13. Fields was the key, hitting a 3-pointer, driving to the hoop for an easy layup and throwing in a 17-footer while getting fouled. He actually passed up a good shot in that stretch and turned the ball over on a bad pass, but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called a timeout, and Fields came back with a trey to make it 31-15.

"We've played some great teams the last two years in the tournament,'' ORU coach Scott Sutton said, referring to Memphis and Washington State, which eliminated the Golden Eagles the previous two years. "I think this is the best team we played.''

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