Paced by sophomore center DeJuan Blair's career-high 32 points and senior point guard Levance Field's all-time best 16 assists, No. 6 Pittsburgh rolled to a 92-69 win against the Blue Demons in Big East action Saturday afternoon at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago.
The Panthers (21-2, 8-2 Big East), who trailed by as much as six in the first half, ended with a 13-0 run to take a 42-33 advantage into the locker room at the intermission. Pitt outscored DePaul (8-16, 0-11) 50-36 in the second half to send the Blue Demons to their 11th straight loss, the longest slide since a 13-game skid at the end of the 1996-97 season.
Blair was dominant again, hitting 14 of 23 shots and pulling down 14 rebounds (nine offensive) to record his 15th double-double. Pitt held a 42-25 advantage on the glass with an amazing 17 offensive rebounds and shot nearly 56 percent from the field (38-for-68). DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright called the performance "amazing,'' and the same could be said for Blair in recent games.
The Big Fella has averaged 24.3 points and 14.6 rebounds while shooting 62 percent in the last three games, while the Panthers have scored more than 90 each time. DePaul had no answer for Blair, who scored on put-backs two times after rebounding his own missed lay-up twice in a row.
"This is the best I've been playing,'' Blair said. "I'm going to try to keep it going. I don't know how I did it when I got three in a row (rebounds). I did that in high school, but I didn't think I could get it in college.''
Wainwright said Blair reminded him of a handball player, the way he kept volleying the ball back after the carom. He also had flashbacks to watching Moses Malone and Charles Barkley.
"He's not as athletic as Charles Barkley, but he's certainly bigger,'' Wainwright said. "Their hips are right up to here on you, and they just don't give up space. He's the kind of guy that when they have festival seating at a stadium ... you want to be standing next to Blair. You're going to get a good seat. He's going to (push his way to) the front.''
The Panthers certainly were able to keep pace with Blair.
Fields had 13 points and set a career-high for assists after matching it with 13 in the previous game against Robert Morris University. Bradley Wanamaker also had 13 points with 5-for-6 shooting. Senior Sam Young struggled again with foul trouble, but tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes.
"We got some turnovers and made some baskets in transition, but I through our offense was good all along with Levance running the show,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's really rounding into top form right now. (And) we were able to keep getting DeJuan the ball. A guy doesn't have 16 assists for no reason.
"But DeJuan has a knack for getting a shot, missing it and then getting his own rebound. He's done a good job with that all season and was especially good today, but you have to miss lay-ups to get those. ... We're playing pretty well right now, and I think this team can be really good, but we can get better.
"Tyrell Biggs has had the flu and hasn't played well, so he can get better,'' Dixon added. "Jermaine Dixon, Brad, Gilbert Brown and Ashton Gibbs have all done some good things, but they can get better. And they will. So, we have 10 guys that we like a lot, and that gives us some depth.''
The lone winless team in Big East play, the Blue Demons are one loss away from matching their worst league start in 13 years. They looked sharp early before the Panthers turned it around for their fifth win in six games.
Pitt trailed 33-29 when Young hit the first of two free throws with 2:20 left in the first half, and Blair put back the miss. Jermaine Dixon then buried a 3-pointer from the corner to give Pitt a 35-33 lead, and hit another one from the top of the key at the end of the half to make it a nine-point game.
DePaul never threatened after that and was blown away in the second half. The Blue Demons got 18 points each from Mac Koshwal and Dar Tucker, who missed the previous game with a sprained left ankle. But their leading scorer was just 6-of-19 shooting in this one, and they were missing starting guard Jabari Currie, who sat out with a sore left knee.
Now, DePaul could fall to 0-12 in league play for the first time since the 1995-96 team dropped its first 12 Conference USA games. Outscored by an average of 18.7 points the previous three games, the Blue Demons hung most of the first half with a team that was ranked among the top five for most of the year and spent time at the top of the poll.
"It's tough for me because I wish this place the best,'' Dixon said. "I wish DePaul the best. This is a special place (with) great leadership. I really do hope that they do well. ... We know that they have some talented players, but they've had some injuries that have hurt their depth.''
Pitt returns to Big East play against West Virginia Monday night at 7 at the Petersen Events Center.
No. 6 Pitt 92, DePaul 69
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