No. 4 Pitt 78, No. 8 Syracuse 60

Sam Young's three-game slump continued through the first half against Syracuse Monday night at the Petersen Events Center, but Pitt's senior forward put the Panthers on his back and carried them to a second-half spurt and 78-60 win against the Orange in a key Big East Conference matchup.

Pittsburgh, which dropped to fourth in the national rankings after its first loss Saturday night at Louisville, improved to 17-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big East primarily due to Young's 19 second-half points (game-high 22). Syracuse, which remained eighth in the polls, is 17-3 and 5-2.

Pitt also held a 40-28 advantage in rebounding, as eight of the nine players who saw action had rebounds. Sophomore Center DeJuan Blair tallied 12, including four on the offensive end, while Young added six. Senior forward Tyrell Biggs and senior point guard Levance Fields had five each.

"It was good to get back the rebounding,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I don't know if the guys mentioned it, but they were challenged about the rebounding numbers. And they responded, so that speaks volumes about our guys. ... A couple (made) shots can change a couple things (with Young).

"But he was OK at Louisville. He just had a bad stretch at the end of the gam (and) took some shots at the end when the game maybe could have been a little more patient. But don't read much into a 6-8-minute stretch when he's been pretty consistent all year 'round. He's got to continue to get offensive rebounds, but you don't want to overreact when a guy has a tough game.''

Young actually had three tough games in a row. Including the first half against Syracuse when he was 1-for-4, Young made just 16 of 53 shots before tearing it up in the second half against the Orange. Young was 6-for-8 from the field, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line.

"(Young), I think he defended pretty well, too, so he can do it in a variety of ways,'' Dixon said. "There are going to be games when he doesn't shoot it as well, but his rebounding and defense have to be there every day. And he was very good against Syracuse.''

Blair, also coming off a bad game in a 69-63 loss at now No. 9 Louisville that ended Pitt's two-week stay at No. 1, was strong inside with 20 points along with the 12 boards. Blair's tenaciousness led a rugged and sometimes intimidating defense that held the Orange nearly 22 points less than its scoring average.

"We did a good job rebounding, and we came out with a win,'' Blair said. "It was a good win. ... They have some horses, but I only had five rebounds in the first half. And that's not me. So, I just got hungry and started going after every one. I guess I bounced back, too, but their big men did a good job.''

Several Syracuse players were seen complaining to the officials during the game that Pitt was being too physical, but that led to were two technical fouls for the Orange less than three minutes apart during the first half. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Fields miss all four shots from the line. Pitt didn't convert either ensuing possession, so it didn't take advantage of that situation at all.

"Pittsburgh's a tremendous team, but we had some opportunities and just didn't take advantage of them,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "The last part of the second half, they started hitting some shots. And we just never shot the ball well (or) play well enough on the road to win.

"(But) you're just going to have nights like this in this league. ... I don't think what Harris said warranted a technical. He wasn't taunting. Everybody was just talking, like the players do. (But) this probably is the only game where somebody will miss four straight free throws. So, they were a non-factor.''

Andy Rautins hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, but Orange leading scorer Jonny Flynn made three of 14 shots while being held to 12 points, four below his average. And he missed all five 3-point attempts to go with seven assists and three turnovers. Fields had six assists and three miscues, as Pitt tallied just 11 turnovers overall.

"We were able to get some stops on defense and then get some points in transition,'' Fields said. "Obviously, Sam got back in a rhythm today and knocked down some shots in the second half when we executed our plays much better. ... In the first half, we were a little jittery, but we slowed it down more in the second half and were able to pull away from them.''

Pitt began pulling away by scoring nine consecutive points, finished off by Young's lay-up off Jermaine Dixon's pass, to make it 42-35 with 15:21 remaining. The Panthers stretched the lead to 53-40 on Fields' drive, and Syracuse got no closer than seven after that.

Freshman forward Nasir Robinson joined Pitt's bench contributors for the first time in Big East play with a basket, a rebound and an assist in a five-minute stretch during the latter part of the second half. Dixon kept Biggs on the bench during that time.

"(Robinson) is good against the zone, and that's something we were looking at,'' Dixon said. "They went small with Harris at the four, so we really felt good about it and felt like the right thing to do at the time. ... So, he found spots, and he's active. That's something we didn't do against Louisville's zone.''

Pittsburgh also went on a 9-0 run midway through the first half to take a 20-11 lead. The advantage would have been bigger if the Panthers had made some free throws. They missed six of their first seven, including all four by Fields after the technicals. Fields had 15 points, but Pitt ended up 9-of-17 at the line due to his whiff from there.

The Orange answered with a 9-0 run of their own, finished off by Rautins' 3-pointer that gave them their first lead at 28-27. However, Blair came back to make two free throws, drawing loud cheers from an announced crowd of 12,508 that looked to be even larger, and Pitt trailed only once after that.

Syracuse, blanketed by Pitt's defense, couldn't come up with another run in the second half to tighten the game. The Orange came in averaging 81.5 points, but shot 41.8 percent (23-of-55) to Pitt's 53.3 percent (32-of-60).

For one of the few times since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, the ticket demand was so great that Pitt was forced to turn away students. The crowd gave some of its biggest cheers to the three Steelers players spotted in the crowd -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, place-kicker Jeff Reed and wideout Santonio Holmes. Reed pointed proudly to his AFC championship T-shirt when he was shown on the Jumbotron.

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