Feb. 9, 2009
DeJuan Blair got into foul trouble. When Blair was pulled with less than five minutes gone after drawing two fouls against West Virginia, the Mountaineers were more than encouraged.
Sorry, false alarm.
Even with Blair sitting out for all but 16 minutes, the Panthers seized the lead with a late first-half run Monday night and went on to beat the Mountaineers 70-59 behind Sam Young's 20 points and an overwhelming advantage in rebounding.
Young followed up a 22-point game in Pitt's 79-67 win at West Virginia two weeks ago, making seven of 12 shots and adding seven rebounds. Levance Fields had 13 points and seven assists to help the Panthers (22-2, 9-2 in Big East) win their fourth in a row and sixth in seven games.
Alex Ruoff scored 17 points and Devin Ebanks 16, but the Mountaineers (16-8, 5-6) lost their sixth in seven games against ranked Big East teams - mostly because they were outrebounded 39-23 as their own top two scorers got into foul trouble. Ruoff fouled out with 7:18 to play and Da'Sean Butler, averaging 17.8 points, was held to 4 points in 18 minutes,
"It was a strange game - their best two players were in foul trouble and two of our best were in foul trouble," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said, referring to Blair and Jermaine Dixon. "But we played through it."
The Panthers didn't do that in losing earlier to Louisville and Villanova, but Blair's foul woes proved insignificant in a fourth consecutive home win over West Virginia.
"That was one of our goals to get him and Young in foul trouble, that's what happened in their losses, Blair's gotten in foul trouble," Ruoff said. "We did that, but we didn't do a good job of taking advantage of it, plus me and Da'Sean did a terrible job of getting in foul trouble ourselves."
The 6-foot-7 Blair was coming off a 32-point, 14-rebound game against DePaul on Saturday and was averaging 24.3 points and 14.7 rebounds in his previous three, but didn't score until getting Pitt's first two baskets of the second half. He finished with eight points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes.
Pittsburgh, known for its defense and not its offense, scored 90 points or more in succession against DePaul, Robert Morris and Notre Dame. That wasn't going to happen against West Virginia, which came in leading the Big East with a 61 points per game defensive average, yet the Panthers maintained double-digit leads during most of the final 10 minutes.
West Virginia also shot poorly, going 21-of-52 (40.4 percent) in its seventh loss in nine games against ranked opponents.
"DeJuan Blair didn't play much in the first half and we're still down 5 (at the half) because Ruoff and Butler didn't play," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We can't get outrebounded by 16."
West Virginia opened a four-point lead shortly after Blair went out, but a Young-led 13-3 run helped the Panthers make it 29-22 lead with 1:12 remaining before halftime.
In the second half, the Panthers pushed their lead to 15 points with a 10-1 run that occurred even as Blair was pulled after drawing a technical foul for protesting an offensive foul call with Pitt up 52-40.
Ruoff made one of the two free throws but West Virginia couldn't score on the ensuing possession after the technical and Fields came back with a left-handed layoff and two free throws the next two times Pitt had the ball.
"Levance controlled the game with his penetration," Dixon said.
Blair's technical, and his foul problems, could have hurt Pitt in a closer game.
"Obviously, we expect a lot from DeJuan, but Sam stepped up his scoring," Fields said. "We definitely didn't want to lose him (Blair). But I don't think you have to worry about him losing his head a lot. I don't expect him to do it again."
Dixon wasn't pleased with Blair's technical but didn't criticize him, saying, "Obviously, that's one of those things you don't want to have happen and he's got to learn from it."
Pitt, 15-0 at home this season, swept the basketball version of the Backyard Brawl for the second time in three seasons despite making only 4 of 13 from 3-point range.