|DeJuan Blair (right) hits the deck in battle for a loose ball with Oklahoma State's Byron Eaton. (John Sommers II/Reuters)|
Go-go Panthers keep going
Pitt steps past Oklahoma St.
DAYTON, Ohio - As his teammates buzzed around him during warmups, Sam Young lost himself in the funky sounds pumping through his headphones.
Young, Pittsburgh's poet in motion whose words are his second love after basketball, let the sweet, sweet music carry him far away.
And deeper into the NCAA Tournament.
Young scored 32 points - 1 shy of his career-high - and center DeJuan Blair added another double-double as top-seeded Pittsburgh advanced into the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in eight years with an 84-76 win over Oklahoma State yesterday in the East Regional.
Pitt (30-4) will play Xavier in the semifinals Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden.
"It's a tough bracket we're in," said Blair, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, some of them with three defenders hanging on him. "We're just fighting through it."
Oklahoma State threw every punch it had. Obi Muonelo scored 19 points for the eighth-seeded Cowboys (23-12), a scrappy bunch who gave the Panthers all they could handle before losing their touch in the final minutes. Oklahoma State made 10 3-pointers in a frenetic first half but dropped just 2 of 12 from long range after halftime as Pitt's defense tightened and took away the open looks available earlier.
"We were right there," said Cowboys guard Byron Eaton, who scored 15 and survived a collision with Blair. "We were never out of it. Pittsburgh's a good team. You can't take nothing from them guys. We had a great game plan, but we just couldn't accomplish what we wanted to."
The Panthers, who barely escaped a first-round upset against No. 16 seed East Tennessee State, showed a champion's poise down the stretch.
The Cowboys tied it, 74-74, with 2:42 left on an inside shot by Marshall Moses and the basket had the University of Dayton Arena fans, including some of Pitt's Big East brethren from Louisville, thinking they might see the tournament's first No. 1 seed go down.
Pitt wasn't going anywhere.
Point guard Levance Fields drove for a layup, and after the Cowboys' James Anderson missed a 3-pointer, Fields dropped a 3 from up top to make it 79-74 with 1:27 left. Eaton's two free throws got the Cowboys within 79-76 and it looked like Oklahoma State would get the ball back when Fields missed a long jumper and the ball caromed high in the air.
Blair, though, wanted it more.
The 6-foot-7-inch, 265-pounder rose up and snatched the offensive rebound - one of 19 by Pitt - and banked it off the glass to give Pitt an 81-76 lead with 40 seconds left.
Young added eight rebounds for the Panthers, who outrebounded the Cowboys, 41-21.
"Our guys were in there scrapping and clawing and doing everything possible they could to rebound," said Travis Ford, who in his first year at Oklahoma State got the school back in the NCAA field after a three-year absence. "We would go up 10 feet and Blair and Young would go up 11."
After the final horn, there was little celebrating by Panthers, who calmly lined up to shake hands with the Cowboys.
Pitt has unfinished business in this tourney.
Despite amassing 20-win seasons, conference titles, and spending part of this season ranked No. 1 for the first time, Pitt is rarely mentioned in the same breath with powers such as Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, and UCLA. The Panthers are unlikely to get their due until they get to the Final Four, a place they haven't visited since 1941.
"Right now, it's about getting wins," Fields said.
The Cowboys did a marvelous job of containing Blair for the first 30 minutes. Using lessons learned while playing Oklahoma star Blake Griffin three times this season, Moses and his teammates collapsed on Blair every time he touched the ball.
Blair didn't score his first field goal until 13:34 was left, and his layup put Pitt ahead, 60-53. The bucket energized the Panthers, and Fields dropped a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's players lost their shooting touch - all at once.
Young said he was listening to go-go music before the game, the subgenre of funk from Washington, D.C., that started during the 1970s. It sure made his shot dance nicely.
The 6-6 senior carried Pitt's offensive load in the first half, scoring 23 points, most of them on outside jumpers to help the Panthers keep up with the sharpshooting Cowboys.
"I wanted to make sure that we was going to get out to an early lead," he said. "I was feeling good. And I was hot."
The Panthers, who have that certain confident swagger on the floor and off, huddled outside their locker before tipoff.
"All in!" they hollered before taking the floor.
Forty minutes later, they were.