No. 3 Pitt 80, Vermont 51

The Pitt men's basketball team has gotten off to slow starts the past few games, despite turning it up a notch in the second half for big wins, but that wasn't the case during an 80-51 win against Vermont Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers raced to a 13-0 lead against the Catamounts, who missed their first seven shots during that stretch and committed three turnovers, as senior forward Tyrell Biggs canned two 3-pointers and senior forward Sam Young made one. Vermont (4-3) never really got back into it, making just 2 of its first 14 shots and shooting 27.4 percent overall.

No. 3 Pittsburgh (9-0) didn't shoot too much better, 39.2 percent from the field with 8-for-22 from 3-point range, but a decided rebounding advantage (59-41) and 27-5 difference on second-chance points were crucial.

"Before the game, Coach said we've been playing good teams and decent teams, but we're about to be playing great teams,'' Young said. "So, it's time to test where our defense is really at, and we came out and tried to pressure them crazy and pretty much execute our plays offensively.''

Young led the Panthers with 28 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes, while sophomore center DeJuan Blair added 13 points and 16 rebounds (Vermont had just 14 offensive boards) in 30 minutes. Freshman Ashton Gibbs came off the bench to tally 11 points, two rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes. Biggs added 10 points and seven boards.

Gibbs hit two 3-pointers late in the first half to extend Pitt's lead to 31-14 with 5:30 remaining, and it hung right around there until a burst at the end of the half helped the Panthers take a 41-19 advantage into the locker room. Biggs and Young both scored on put-backs to stretch the lead and keep the game from being too competitive.

"In practice we compete every day, so pretty much we're prepared for every game,'' Young said. "I don't even want to say it, but one of the guys on the team said that sometimes he things we let teams back in games just so it can be as competitive as we would like it to be. Just so we can feel the pressure.''

Gibbs was able to get more playing time because junior guard Jermaine Dixon was in foul trouble early, getting his second less than two minutes into the game, and also because Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the player was hobbled all week by a hamstring problem.

"I just wanted to take advantage of all my opportunities, and Coach gave me one today that he didn't give me in the last game,'' Gibbs said. "So, I just wanted to shoot every open shot that I had and try to knock them down. I think I played pretty well. I think I can play better, but I did all right.''

Fourth-year Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan gave Pitt credit for its stifling defense, rebounding process and utilizing Young's talents. But he also believed the Catamounts could shoot a lot better than what they showed during a dismal 17-for-62 performance, including 4 of 16 from 3-point range.

Junior swing player Marquis Blakely led Vermont with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but he made just 5 of 14 shots and committed four turnovers. He also was 9-for-11 from the free-throw line with five assists, five blocked shots and four steals. Sophomore guard Joey Accaoui added 10 points.

"Coach Dixon prepares us very well for these games, watching film and running through things in practice, and it was a great team effort for us,'' Biggs said. "We double-teamed them in the post, and that kept them out of it in the first half for sure. They had to work for nearly every shot.''

Young averages better than 20 points per game now, and it's been a while since a Pitt player did that. Sure, it's a long season, but Young believed he could keep up his pace once the Big East schedule starts. The Panthers give him quite a few opportunities, too, because Coach Dixon said they run more plays for Young than they have for anyone in a while.

"I hope so,'' Young said. "I'm not sure, but I'm going to do the best that I can. This team wasn't that great defensively, and I definitely took advantage of that. The guards didn't pressure the ball that much, and they didn't play too tight on us. So, I pretty much was able to do what I wanted to do. (And) we kind of overpowered them.''

Biggs agreed.

"He gets his buckets in the flow of the game, but we try to do what we can to make it easier on him,'' Biggs said. "We want them to worry about us, so he can do some things, but when things are going well for him it really doesn't matter. And he was hot tonight.''

Coach Lonergan believed the difference was that his team did not match Pitt's physicality from start to finish.

"We really just did not compete at all,'' Lonergan said, "and when we got some open shots we missed them. ... They hit the boards hard. They really manhandled us, and we just had a tough time competing against them. They're definitely one of the top three teams in the country.''

But that doesn't matter for the Panthers, because they compete extremely hard against themselves during practice.

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