Gray, Pittsburgh down DePaul for fifth straight winJan 11, 2007 - 6:02 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- An improved effort by Aaron Gray made sure that Pittsburgh played from in front.
Gray scored 18 points and had seven rebounds as the seventh-ranked Panthers never trailed in a 59-49 Big East Conference victory over the DePaul.
The conference's reigning Most Improved Player, Gray shot 8-of-15 from the field to turn around his recent struggles. He had scored a total of 26 points in his previous four games.
"The guys just did a great job of getting me the ball down low so I had some easy baskets," Gray said.
With the 7-footer back on top of his game, Pittsburgh (15-2, 3-0 Big East) avoided the 13-point deficit that it needed to rally against in a 73-65 victory over DePaul in the previous meeting last January 12.
The Panthers also ended an outstanding run here for the Blue Demons, who had won their previous nine home games dating back to last season, including an upset of then-No. 5 Kansas on December 2.
"This is a big win for us to come in here and beat a team that hasn't lost at home," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "They have quality wins over Kansas, (California), and Villanova. That left me a bit worried coming in to be honest."
Behind eight early points by Gray, the Panthers built a 28-18 lead at the half. The advantage grew to 40-26 on a layup by Levon Kendall with 12:35 to play before the Blue Demons attempted a late comeback.
One of the reasons for Gray's improved play was DePaul's decision not to double the senior, a tactic that astonished Dixon.
"I was surprised they didn't double-team Aaron and you really can't stop him with one guy," he said
Behind the 3-point shooting by Draelon Burns, DePaul closed within 48-41 with 3:45 remaining. But Gray answered back with two free throws, starting an 8-3 run for Pittsburgh.
"I thought that was going to be the basket that would bring us back, but then Gray came down and made (the free throws) and took our crowd right back out of the game," Burns said.
Antonio Graves and Mike Cook both had 10 points for the Panthers, who captured their fifth straight win.
Continuing to be a strong playmaker and floor leader in his first season as the starting point guard, sophomore Levance Fields had eight points, seven assists and seven rebounds. The 5-10 Fields is averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 assists over the last five games.
Burns sank three 3-pointers and scored 15 points for the Blue Demons (10-7, 1-2), who shot 34.5 percent (19-of-55), including 6-of-23 on 3-pointers.
Holding a team under 49 points for the second straight game and 55 in four of the last five, Pittsburgh put the locks on DePaul leading scorer Sammy Mejia, who only finished with 10 points after scoring five in the closing two minutes.
The 6-6 senior came into the contest averaging 16.1 points - good for eighth in the Big East. However, Mejia managed only three points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, and did not get his second field goal until there was 9:05 left in the contest.
"They had us playing at their pace and their was nothing we could do to change it," Mejia said. "As a result our offense struggled all night."
- NCAA BB
FINAL 1ST 2ND TOTAL
--- --- -----
PITTSBURGH (7) 28 31 59
DEPAUL 18 31 49 FINAL
Jan 10 8:51 PM
- NCAA BB
PITTSBURGH (7) 28
DEPAUL 18 HALFTIME
Jan 10 7:43 PM
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