Four days after losing to Providence, which was just 24 hours after it moved back into the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press and USA Today-ESPN polls, Pittsburgh got off to another slow start and trailed the Pirates.
However, led by Sam Young's 29 points and 10 rebounds, Pitt eventually took control and secured a solid 89-78 win against Seton Hall in a Big East Conference matchup Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
"In a way, that loss prepared us for this game, another senior night, all the emotions, and they had a good start,'' Pitt senior point guard Levance Fields said. "We did a great job of pulling together. We tried to play too hard (against Providence), but this time we were able to pull away after halftime.''
Actually, the Panthers (26-3, 13-3) needed a late 7-0 run to take a 36-31 lead into the locker room at halftime and didn't get a basket from sophomore center DeJuan Blair until nearly three minutes passed in the second half. Pitt steadily pulled away after that and took control.
Until that point, primarily throughout the first half, it looked like the Panthers were in for another long night. They had another poor performance handling the ball with a season-worst 23 total turnovers. Pitt, which averaged 11 turnovers per game to rise to the No. 1 ranking Monday for the third week this season, committed 18 miscues in the loss at Providence.
"Losses bother us,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's why our record is what it is. We did things better, but the last game was one of those things. Something got away from us. This was about us, and not about that game.''
The Panthers took a 36-31 halftime lead against Seton Hall (15-13, 6-10) and reached double figures for the first time on a move down low by Young that made it 49-39 with 15:42 to play. With Young's offense and Pitt dominating the boards at both ends, the Pirates weren't able to make a run.
Seton Hall lost for the fourth time in five games and is 0-12 against the nation's top-ranked team, including a 62-54 loss to Connecticut earlier this season, despite 25 points from senior Jeremy Hazell.
"I thought we played with a lot of intensity and heart,'' Dixon said. (And) out-rebounding them was something we talked about doing, and we're proud of that.''
Blair entered the game third in the nation in rebounding, averaging 13 per contest, but he banged knees with a Seton Hall player in the game's opening three minutes and limped to the locker room. Blair returned some four minutes later (13:23 remaining), but had no points (0-for-2) and two rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
"DeJuan getting hurt changed things," Dixon said. "He wasn't moving as well but he gutted it out with a lot of character and heart. We'll wait until tomorrow to see how bad it is. He wanted to go and that says a lot about him."
Young was 10-for-15 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line with 10 rebounds. Blair finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, as Pitt held a 44-21 advantage in boards. Fields, who entered the game third in the nation with 7.5 assists per game, had 10 points and 10 assists. Junior guard Jermaine Dixon added 14 points for the Panthers.
"You don't want to see something like Dominic James,'' Fields said, referring to the Marquette guard whose season ended this week after he broke a bone in his foot. "That's the first thing in your mind. It was good to see DeJuan get up. It would have been tough without him.''
Robert Mitchell and Eugene Harvey both had 17 points for Seton Hall, but the Panthers were able to win relatively easily by shooting 51.7 percent from the field. They averaged 48.1 percent coming into the game, which is second-best in the Big East.
"We gave everything we had,'' Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "They're a great, great team, and I thought we played them tough for 25, 30 minutes. But we couldn't sustain it. We hit the wall. It took so much out of us just to stay with them. We had no answer for Sam Young. He was spectacular.
"They asserted themselves in the second half. There's a reason they're No. 1 and one of the best teams in the league. It was just Pittsburgh being better than us, wearing us out and winning.''
Pitt has two regular-season games remaining, both at home, Wednesdy against Marquette and Saturday against Connecticut at the Petersen Events Center.
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If the Pitt men's basketball team wins its remaining two regular-season games against Marquette…