Nov. 14, 2008
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Levance Fields waited 11 months to feel this good again. The point guard wasn't about to miss another practice or another game, even though there was no urgent need for him to be in No. 5 Pittsburgh's opening-night lineup.
DeJuan Blair was overpowering inside with 17 points and 13 rebounds in slightly more than a half and Pittsburgh got a big lift from Fields' return from a broken foot, breezing past Fairleigh Dickinson 86-63 Friday night.
The 265-pound Blair scored eight points during a 16-2 surge in the first 6 1/2 minutes as Pittsburgh won its 12th consecutive season opener. Pitt maintained comfortable leads the rest of the way, and coach Jamie Dixon began emptying his bench with the Panthers up 61-36 with 12 minutes remaining.
Fields' status was uncertain until minutes before gametime. The senior missed a dozen games with a broken left foot that occurred in late December, then fractured it again in August and needed a bone graft operation. He was out for Pitt's two exhibition games, but had no apparent problems with his foot while getting 15 points and eight assists in 25 minutes.
"He really changes our team when he plays," coach Jamie Dixon said.
Dixon said beforehand he wouldn't rush Fields back, but Fields said he wasn't worried about playing so soon after being reinjured.
"I feel fine," said Fields, who averaged 11.9 points on a 27-10 team last season. "It's been 11 months since I was able to do what I used to do. I played like I played before I was hurt."
Fields' value to the reigning Big East Conference tournament champions was apparent from the opening tip; the Panthers are 52-12 in his career when he starts. They lost six of 14 when he wasn't in the lineup last season, when they were beaten by Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"He looks like he's back to me," Blair said.
Sam Young, Pitt's leading returning scorer, added 15 points as Dixon spread out his playing time, as he often does in November and December before the start of Big East play. Ten players were on the court for 13 minutes or more.
Pitt improved to 65-0 against Northeast Conference schools, a record enhanced by its 26-0 mark against city opponent Robert Morris. Pitt shot 55.4 percent (36-of-65) to Fairleigh Dickinson's 42.9 percent (21-of-49).
"I don't know if I'll see a better team the rest of the season," Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tom Green said. "This is my 26th year (of coaching), and we play three or four big-time teams every year, and I don't know if I've seen a team play man-to-man defense as well as Pitt plays it. That's probably the best defense we've ever played again. We have 12 or 13 plays we can run, but we couldn't run any of them against them."
Fairleigh Dickinson (0-1), coming off an 8-20 season, tried several times to get back into the game but had no answer for the 6-foot-7 Blair. Last season's Big East rookie of the year dunked in the first 30 seconds, then scored on a putback, a layup and another dunk on an alley-oop pass from Fields - all in slightly more than five minutes.
"He's a physical presence for a team like ours to try to combat," Green said.
Blair looks quicker and more mobile around the basket than he did last season, when he was listed at 265 pounds but probably weighed closer to 275.
The Knights, outrebounded 35-24, were led by Eric Moore's 17 points. John Galvin added 14 and Alvin Mofunanya scored 13.
Pittsburgh won its 29th in a row against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center, which opened six years ago, and its 78th in its last 79 against non-Big East teams. The Panthers play again Monday against Miami (Ohio), which led No. 4 UCLA in the second half before losing 64-59 on Thursday night.
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