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January 14, 2008

Injury-depleted Pitt knocks off No. 5 Georgetown

Box score

PITTSBURGH — A few days after Pittsburgh lost starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook to injuries last month, coach Jamie Dixon delivered a simple message to his nine healthy scholarship players.

Namely, he would allow no excuses the rest of the season, nor would he set any limitations for those who remained.

Maybe he should have added this, too: Not many losses were permitted, either.

Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, playing new roles because of the injuries, both scored 18 points and the 15th-ranked Panthers surprised No. 5 Georgetown 69-60 on Monday night.

The Panthers (15-2, 3-1 Big East), their season seemingly in peril when starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook were hurt a game apart in late December, are 4-1 with Ramon at point guard in place of Fields and have stretched their home court winning streak to 13 games.

"Maybe we had fewer players, but I didn't hear anybody talking about getting ready for next season," Dixon said. "We knew we still had to get better, we still had to get stuff done."

Freshman DeJuan Blair did that in this game despite giving up 7 inches to Georgetown star center Roy Hibbert by getting 15 points and nine rebounds. In two games against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time, Duke and Georgetown, Blair has 30 points and 29 rebounds.

Jonathan Wallace had 14 points for Georgetown (13-2, 3-1), which had won five straight overall and had beaten Pitt four of five times. With the Hoyas' loss there are no teams unbeaten in Big East play.

Benjamin became a starter when Cook was hurt but is averaging 16.6 points while in the lineup, and his latest big game enabled Pitt to withstand leading scorer Sam Young's first game below double figures this season. Young, averaging 18 points, was held to nine points after scoring a career-high 28 against Seton Hall on Saturday.

"Clearly, losing the two guys that they did was key, but their talent level is extremely high," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "The guys that now are playing more minutes seem a lot more comfortable out there."

Young made his limited scoring count, hitting two key baskets as Pitt began the second half with a 15-4 run to take a 42-30 lead. Ramon and Benjamin hit 3-pointers on successive possessions.

"Teams felt like they had a better chance of beating us when we went down a few guys, but we knew we would come out stronger, and we've been proving it since they went down," Ramon said.

The Hoyas scored eight consecutive points to get within 47-44 as Patrick Ewing Jr. dunked off Jeremiah Rivers' miss and drove for a layup on consecutive possessions. But Blair's three-point play with 8:31 left pushed Pitt's lead back to six, and Benjamin drove the lane to score the next time down and make it 52-44.

"I didn't think there was any doubt we were going to come back and make a run and take over the game," Ewing said. "But we didn't do enough."

The Hoyas, coming off a 72-69 win Saturday over Connecticut, never led against Pitt, which despite a substantial height disadvantage held a 37-33 rebounding edge. The Hoyas had the experience edge, too, with four starters back to Pitt's none from the team that beat the Panthers 65-42 in the Big East championship game 10 months ago.

"I knew it would be hard, banging in there against him," Blair said of Hibbert, a preseason All-American. "But this is why I came to Pitt, why I came into the Big East. I guess Aaron (Gray, Pitt's center last season) didn't bang him as hard in that game."

The Hoyas couldn't make a late drive, partly because they were only 3-of-20 on 3-pointers. They came into the game as the best-shooting Division I team in the country at 51.6 percent, but were held to a 44.2 percent (23-of-52).

The Panthers are 4-1 against top five teams with four consecutive wins at home with Dixon on their staff as either an assistant or head coach. Pitt hadn't beaten a team ranked as highly as Georgetown at home since defeating No. 4 Syracuse 76-69 on Jan. 29, 2005.

Among those in the crowd were Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Terrelle Pryor, the 6-foot-6 quarterback from nearby Jeannette (Pa.) High who is considered the top unsigned major college football recruit. Fans chanted "We Want Pryor," and one fan held up a sign "Marino, Ditka, Dorsett ... Pryor."

For more coverage of Pittsburgh, visit PantherLair.com; for more on Georgetown, visit HoyaReport.com.



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