Sam Young, who has played exclusively at small forward this season, moved from there to the four spot and even into the center position and dominated. Young tallied 33 points on 13-for-17 shooting and seven rebounds in 36 minutes to lead Pittsburgh to a 74-60 win against the Bruins.
Young, who said he hadn't played the five spot since his days at Friendly High School in Maryland, was pressed into the chameleon role with sophomore center DeJuan Blair out with right knee inflammation, sophomore backup Gary McGhee slowed by a twisted ankle and senior Tyrell Biggs hampered by foul trouble.
"It was a little different,'' Young said. "I pretty much don't like to hang out right around the basket all the time, but I had to do it for DeJuan.''
Blair had a good practice Monday, according to Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, but woke up Tuesday with some discomfort and swelling in his right knee. An MRI did not show any structural problems, and Dixon said it was the first time this occurred to Blair since his knee injuries two years ago at Schenley High School.
"We decided to err on the side of caution with DeJuan, but he wanted to play,'' Dixon said. "There's no pain in his knee, so he thought he could play. But we didn't want to take a chance.''
The final score really isn't an indication how close the game actually was for a while or how badly Pitt was out-rebounded. Belmont, which fired up 29 shots from 3-point range and made just nine, built a 44-34 advantage in rebounding. That included an amazing 25 offensive rebounds, primarily due to the long bounces off the rim on the treys.
That helped the Bruins tie the score four times, including 2-2, 13-13 (13:10 remaining in the first half), 20-20 (5:57) and 23-23 (5:16). But then it was all Young. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Naismith candidate did not score until more than 11 minutes passed in the first half, but he went wild after that.
Young's first shot was a breakaway slam and followed that up with a three-point play and two treys, a steal and coast-to-coast dunk. Despite his offensive success from the field, Young could not hit a free throw to save his life. In fact, Pitt was 5-for-12 from the line in the first half only thanks to Young canning his final two, as Pitt led 37-31 at halftime.
"Coach told us that we were being out rebounded at halftime, and our defense wasn't that good,'' Young said. "I thought I was kind of taking it slow, so I wanted to be more aggressive.
"And that's what I did. I got a lot of great looks, and I took advantage of it. ... DeJuan is a great presence on the offensive and defensive end, so when you take him away from our team that's a big piece of our puzzle.''
Young finished at 5-for-10 overall on free throws and even though he was the first Pitt men's basketball player to score more than 30 points since Carl Krauser's 32 against Syracuse Jan. 24, 2006, he had a shot to hit 40.
Young scored 14 of Pitt's first 18 points in the second half, exclusively from in the paint and short-range jumpers (no treys), and the Panthers steadily build a lead. Pitt's advantage reached an apex of 17 points, 57-40, midway through the second half and it never was less than a double-digit lead after that.
"Last year, Young had a great 3-point shooting year,'' Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. "But he still shoots 4- or 5-1 twos versus threes, so ... we need to force him to shoot threes and not put it on the floor, because when he gets by you something great happens for Pittsburgh. He either scores or gets fouled or both. So, you just have to try to keep him out of the paint.''
Byrd, a 23-year coaching veteran with the Bruins, added that Young is "about as good as anybody that I've seen getting there.'' And with Young in high gear, Byrd noted, Pitt is a very good team that he has voted third in the ESPN-USA Today coaches' poll and considered the Panthers to be a Final Four contender.
With the way Young played, how could anyone argue?
"I always take on the challenge, to be able to take over a game,'' Young said. "I've been doing it my whole career, even before I got to Pitt, and since the team was struggling a little bit (against Belmont) I definitely wanted to take advantage of the situation. ... I'm kind of upset that I missed all those free throws. I don't know what I was doing at the line today.''
Senior point guard Levance Fields also had a hot hand from the outside, but it was overlooked due to Young's performance. Fields provided the Panthers with all their offense early by making all three of his 3-point shots. He finished 4-for-5 from long range and had 17 points, five rebounds, six assists, a steal and just two turnovers in 34 minutes.
Junior guard Jermaine Dixon added five quick points at the end to finish with 10 overall, but he continued to struggle from 3-point range (0-for-3). However, Dixon also had four rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots in 31 minutes. Biggs and McGhee, the other two starters, were ineffective. Biggs had six points and three boards in 22 minutes due to foul trouble, while McGhee played just 16 minutes due to an ankle injury and tallied two points (the game's first basket) and one rebound.
Pitt got two points and four rebounds in 15 minutes from redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown, who had missed the four opening games with a stress fracture in his foot. Brown missed all three of his shots from the field, including a possible dunk or lay-in that he appeared to be unsure about at the end.
Matthew Dotson led Belmont with 16 points in 23 minutes, while point guard Alex Renfroe tallied 12 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes. The Bruins shot 28.8 percent from the field, while Pitt connected on 62.2 percent of its shots overall (71.4 percent in the second half).
No. 4 Pitt 74, Belmont 60
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