Pittsburgh's Gray towers over NortheasternNov 18, 2006 - 12:16 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) - Aaron Gray showed what he can do when he is determined to impose his will.
Gray scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half as fifth-ranked Pittsburgh rolled to a 78-52 victory over Northeastern in the first of three straight games for both teams in the Colonial Classic.
One of the top 7-footers in the nation, Gray had a decided advantage over the Huskies, who do not have a player over 6-9 on their roster. Gray made eight of his first 12 shots as the Panthers raced out to a 15-2 lead and had a 38-24 advantage at intermission.
"We just didn't have the size to combat (Gray) and he's such a fundamental player; he really plays within himself," Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. "He's just a good all-around basketball player and if he gets an opportunity to score, he takes advantage of that opportunity."
Pittsburgh (3-0) held a 20-2 advantage in points in the paint in the first half.
"That's one of the strengths of our team," said Gray about his team's size. "It's one of the things that coach (Jamie) Dixon really stressed before the game; just get the ball inside and feed off of that. It was working, we executed our plays really well."
The reigning Big East Most Improved Player, Gray finished 11-of-16 from the floor and pulled down 14 rebounds in only 25 minutes.
"As everybody's seen, he's a better player this year than he was last year," Dixon said. "He's better finishing around the basket, he's better running the floor, he's a better defender, he's a better passer and he's doing a better job getting position as well. He's improving and he still needs to continue to improve and he wants to."
Gray, who led the Big East last season with 10.5 rebounds, highlighted an impressive effort on the boards as Pittsburgh held a 44-25 advantage.
"My main emphasis and my biggest asset, I think, for this team is my rebounding," Gray said. "We have so many guys that can score and so many guys that are setting me up so well that maybe I get a little too much credit. I'm just thankful to be here with this team, with this bunch of guys."
Antonio Graves, who finished 3-of-4 on 3-pointers, had 15 points and Keith Benjamin chipped in 11 for the Panthers, who shot 51 percent (31-of-61) and converted 11-of-14 free throws.
The player responsible for trying to replace the leadership and playmaking of departed Carl Krauser, sophomore Levance Fields scored five points, handed out five assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Also doing a little bit of everything was senior forward Levon Kendall, who had four points and four rebounds to go along with five assists.
Pittsburgh will continue play in this event against Massachusetts on Saturday, and face Oakland on Sunday.
Bennet Davis was the lone player in double figures for Northeastern (0-2), which shot 35 percent (20-of-57).
The Huskies opened the season with consecutive games against Big East schools, absorbing an 81-58 rout at Syracuse on Wednesday.
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