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No. 3 Panthers Rally Past Knights, 78-72

Sam Young skies to the hoop vs. Rutgers. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Sam Young skies to the hoop vs. Rutgers. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Dec. 31, 2008

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- Jamie Dixon must assure people every season that his Pittsburgh team works on zone defense in practice. Every so often, the Panthers prove that by playing it effectively during a game.

Such was the case Wednesday when the No. 3 Panthers abandoned their traditional man-to-man to slow down hot-shooting Rutgers in a 78-72 win.

Sam Young scored 18 points for the Panthers (13-0, 1-0 Big East), who yielded their most points this season and won by their smallest margin. Pittsburgh had been allowing 57.1 points and winning by 20.8 points.

Things might have been worse had Dixon not gone to zone early in the second half, which helped Pittsburgh overcome 46-39 deficit.

"We practice zone every day," the coach said. "People always think it's the first time we've ever played it. We usually bring it out when we need to and it's been successful at times.

"They were in a rhythm. I probably should have gone to the zone earlier. I had a feeling going into this game we were going to need to use it. It helped us out, obviously."

Rutgers (9-5, 0-1) shot 61.5 percent in the first half to take a 43-39 lead. The Panthers eventually went to a zone and the Knights shot just 27 percent after intermission.

"It was obvious it threw them off," Young said. "We almost couldn't get a stop in man-to-man. But with the zone, we got three or four straight and it was hard for them to get a shot off."

Mike Rosario had 22 points for Rutgers, while Anthony Farmer added 20 and Corey Chandler 17. But the trio shot 8-for-24 after making 13 of 19 in the first half.

"That was a good call by their coach," Rosario said. "When they were playing us man, we were basically getting anything we wanted."

While Rutgers' starting guards led their offense, Pittsburgh's bench outscored the Knights, 31-9. Brad Wanamaker had 13 of his career-high 15 in the second half while Gilbert Brown came off the bench for 11.

Levance Fields also had 11 and Jermaine Dixon 10 as the Panthers continued their best start since going 15-0 in the 2005-06 season.

Tyrell Biggs had 10 rebounds to make up for an off day by foul-plagued DeJuan Blair (two boards), the nation's second leading rebounder.

With Rutgers leading 55-50, Wanamaker scored five points in a 9-0 run as the Panthers opened a 59-55 lead. Pittsburgh would never trail again, opening its largest advantage at 70-59 and making eight of 12 foul shots in the final 1:27.

"Between Brad and Gilbert it was unbelievable," Young said. "Gil got some rebounds, hit some big-time shots off the dribble. In the second half, Brad just picked up the slack. We knew they had it in them, and they picked a fine time to bring it out today."

The game continued a daunting week for Rutgers, which lost to No. 1 North Carolina on Sunday and faces No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday. It is believed to be the first time a team has played the nation's top-three ranked schools in succession within the same week.

"We did a great job today," Rosario said. "It wasn't fatigue that got us in the end. Pitt just did what their coach told them to do, picked up their defensive principles and hit some tough shots.

"But we've gotten motivated from both these games. Rutgers is playing good basketball right now."