The No. 3 Pittsburgh men's basketball team survived game-long foul trouble by sophomore center DeJuan Blair and a hot-shooting first half by Rutgers to remain undefeated and beat the Scarlet Knights 78-72 Wednesday afternoon at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
"Last year's game, it was kind of a letdown,'' Pitt redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown said. "Defensively, we let down badly and let them get back in the game. And we probably took them a little too lightly, more than we should have, going into that game.
"Anytime in the Big East, any team can beat any team, and I guess we didn't think of it like that last year. So, this year, it's kind of a payback game for us. We definitely want to win, but especially because they beat us last year.''
A key for Pitt was its zone defense in the second half.
"People always think it's the first time we've ever played it,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We usually bring it out when we need to and it's been successful at times.
"They were in a rhythm. I probably should have gone to the zone earlier. I had a feeling going into this game we were going to need to use it. It helped us out, obviously.''
Pitt senior forward Sam Young got untracked as well in the second half
"It was obvious it threw them off,'' Young said. "We almost couldn't get a stop in man-to-man. But with the zone, we got three or four straight and it was hard for them to get a shot off.''
Rutgers coach Fred Hill was proud with his team's overall performance.
"Our guys did a terrific job,'' Hill said. "I thought they went zone, and it slowed us down a little in the second half. We got the ball inside near the rim three times, and we came away empty. Those empty possessions hurt you against the No. 3 team in the country. We've gotten better, (and) that's what we talk about. It sounds boring and cliché, but that's what we do.
"We're building something very special. You can see it starting to develop. Our goal is to get better each and every day, we've been doing that, and that's why we've played some pretty good basketball the last two games. This is a good time of the year, because there's no school, and guys can come in the morning and shoot and work out.
"It's a great time to work on your game, and our guys have taken advantage of that,'' Hill added. "Each practice and each game, you want to take something positive out of it and continue to grow. We've done that and you can see our players starting to grow and gain some experience and confidence.''
The Panthers (13-0) left shortly after the game for a bus trip to Georgetown to meet the No. 8 Hoyas. They upset then second-ranked Connecticut this week. Rutgers is in a stretch of games where it played at No. 1 North Carolina Sunday, No. 3 Pitt Wednesday and at No. 2 Connecticut Saturday.
Sam Young scored 18 points to lead five Pitt players in double figures in the Big East opener for both teams. Sophomore Bradley Wanamaker came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points, while Brown (11), Levance Fields (11) and Jermaine Dixon (10) also contributed for Pitt. Senior Tyrell Biggs had 11 rebounds.
Rutgers scored 72 points against the Panthers, the most points they have given up this season. Pitt has allowed 67 points twice, against Akron (Nov. 21) and Texas Tech (Nov. 28). The six-point win was its lowest margin of victory. Its previous low was eight points in a 56-48 defeat of Florida State Dec. 21.
Freshman Mike Rosario scored 22 points to pace Rutgers (9-5), which shot 61.5 percent in the first half and led, 55-50, with 10 minutes to play. The Panthers then went on a 20-4 run to remain among the nation's six undefeated teams. Anthony Farmer had 20 and Corey Chandler 17.
"Our guards did such a phenomenal job today. We like to run a lot of ball screens, and they like to hedge hard and trap off those screens. I told our guys in practice it would be a matter of how we handled that hedging and trapping; if we handled it well we would get a lot of good looks and opportunities to score. Our guards did that and that's why we were able to knock down some shots.''
Pitt clamped down on defense in the second half after allowing Rutgers to jump out to a 43-39 lead at halftime. The Panthers switched to a zone defense after their patented man-to-man defense faltered. Rutgers raced to the halftime lead by shooting 61.5 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Pitt kept up its best start since going 15-0 in the 2005-06 season. Rutgers led 55-50 midway through the second half. Wanamaker then scored five points in a 9-0 run as the Panthers pulled away. Wanamaker led a bench that outscored Rutgers' reserves 31-9.
Here is the box score:
No. 3 Pitt 78, Rutgers 72
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