Blair Dominates Irish; Pitt Wins 93-80

After scoring 45 first-half points against the vaunted Pitt defense, the Notre Dame bench talked about hitting 90 points for the game.

It turned out that wouldn't have been enough, as Pittsburgh overcame a six-point halftime deficit -- only its second this season, to pound the Fighting Irish, 93-80, Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center.

A key was sophomore center DeJuan Blair's dominant performance, something missing while he was in foul trouble during the Panthers' two losses. Blair tallied 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds, two more than former Pitt star Chris McNeal (27-20) had against Boston College March 3, 1992.

"I let the game come to me, and my teammates did a good job getting me the ball,'' Blair said, marveling when he looked at the score sheet and saw that he had 22 rebounds. "I was scoring a little more, but 22 rebounds ... I didn't know I had all that. That's crazy. That's really something.

"It was a good battle against Harangody, and it's tough to guard him because he's quick on his feet. He moves real well and takes a lot of shots, but he's a heckuva player. Of course, when the big men come in, that's a challenge for me, and I think I played a good game against a player with a lot of pub.''

Senior point guard Levance Fields scored 17 points, while junior guard Jermaine Dixon had 16 and reserves Ashton Gibbs and Bradley Wanamaker added 13 for the Panthers (19-2, 7-2 Big East), who bounced back from a loss at Villanova Wednesday to win their 15th consecutive home game.

Senior Luke Harangody gunned in 27 points (on 25 shots) and had 11 rebounds for Notre Dame (12-8, 3-6), which lost its fifth straight game. Luke Zeller added 18 points, all on 3-pointers in the first half. Zeller was 6-for-8 from the field in the first half and missed his only second-half attempt in six minutes.

"I was really happy with our start and really happy with our momentum at halftime, but what really hurt us was how we started the second half,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "What really hurt us was a couple turnovers, and then they hit the backboard. And the thing that they do maybe better than anyone in the country is offensive rebounding.''

Notre Dame finished with 12 treys overall, including 11 in the first half, and held a 45-39 advantage at the intermission. The losing streak for the Irish, who were ranked as high as No. 7 this season, has been against ranked opponents.

Pitt trailed 45-39 at halftime, just the second time this season the Panthers were behind at intermission. Pitt trailed Rutgers, 43-39, Dec. 31 before pulling out a 78-72 win to open its Big East schedule. This time, the Panthers wiped out Notre Dame's lead with an 18-4 run to start the second half.

Pitt also pulled ahead to a 49-30 advantage in rebounding overall, but dominated 22-9 on the offensive end.

A 3-pointer from Fields, a three-point play by Sam Young and another basket from Young put Pittsburgh ahead for good, 47-45, with 18:02 left. The run was the lone bright spot for Young, Pitt's leading scorer, who was held to five points on 2-of-11 shooting. Senior Tyrell Biggs, Pitt's other starting forward, battled illness (according to Coach Jamie Dixon) and went 1-for-6 for two points.

"We were focusing a lot on Luke Harangody in the post to start the game,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's the reigning Conference player of the year, so he commands a lot of defensive attention.

"(And) in the second half, we have them more touches inside and just tried to concentrate on running with their guards. (But) I think our bench players are really what separates us from a lot of teams in this league.''

Two baskets from Blair put Pittsburgh ahead 51-47, and 3-pointers from Dixon and Fields gave the Panthers a 57-49 lead with 15:33 left. Another 3-pointer from Dixon made it 66-55, and Notre Dame got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Notre Dame, which was making its first visit to the Petersen Events Center in more than three years, took a 20-10 lead with 13:35 left in the first half. The Irish connected on six 3-pointers during their early run, including four from an unconscious Zeller. He had made just four treys in his previous four games and averaged just six points per game.

After Pitt cut Notre Dame's lead to 23-21, the Irish went back ahead 32-24 with 6:00 left behind two 3-pointers from Ryan Ayers and another long-range shot from Zeller. The Panthers rallied to tie the game at 34 before Notre Dame went ahead behind 3-pointers from Kyle McAlarney and Zeller.

Pitt faces Robert Morris University in a non-conference matchup Monday at 7 p.m. at the Pete.

Box Score.

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