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Pittsburgh survives Buffalo's upset bid

Dec 9, 2006 - 11:15 PM BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) -- Pittsburgh might want to wait another 30 years before paying a visit to Buffalo.

Aaron Gray scored 19 points as No. 2 Pittsburgh rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit for a 70-67 victory over Buffalo.

The Panthers showed their poise in averting the upset, patiently running their offense to score their final 22 points on either layups or free throws.

"We know we're going to get everyone's best shot being the No. 2 team in the nation," the 7-foot Gray said. "We know we have a target on our back but we enjoy the challenge. ... We're playing tough games on the road in order to help prepare us along down the road."

The Panthers (10-0) trailed virtually the entire way until Gray and Levance Fields hit back-to-back layups 24 seconds apart for a 59-58 edge with 5:14 to play, their first lead since 2-0.

The Bulls led just once more but had a chance to tie on their last possession. Yassin Idbihi missed a potential tying 3-pointer and Parnell Smith converted the rebound with 1.7 seconds to play to cut it to 68-67.

Fields scored at the other end on a long pass as time expired to extend the Panthers' non-conference winning streak to 21 games.

Pittsburgh holds a 5-1 edge in the all-time series, having won five in a row. It had not played here since January 1976.

"We had the chance to beat the No. 2 team in the country," Idbihi said. "We were up for most of the game and then we had a feeling that we gave it away. That makes it hurt more."

The Bulls led by as many as 11 points in the opening 20 minutes and still owned a 53-43 advantage on Greg Gamble's layup with 14:09 to play.

Buffalo was attacking the basket against Pitt's big men. But the Panthers tightened their defense, and Keith Benjamin scored five straight points to spark a 9-0 run that sliced the deficit to 53-52 with 9:28 left.

"They have a unique offense that we don't see a lot of, with big guys who play out on the perimeter and handle the ball well," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We made a great adjustment on how we played the handoff, but they continued to execute very well. They are a very good team and very well-coached."

Idbihi's jumper gave Buffalo its lead last at 60-59 with 4:52 to play. The Panthers hit seven straight free throws and Gray had a layup to maintain the lead.

"Our guys fought really hard and one of the encouraging things for our guys was that when they came back and took the lead, our guys came with a mind-set of winning," Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "It was a good experience for us, and next time we'll have to find a way to get better."

Mike Cook scored 12 points while Fields and Antonio Graves added 11 apiece for Pittsburgh, which shot 51 percent (25-of-49) from the floor.

"We did a good job of staying together and keeping out composure," Gray said. "We were in our timeouts talking to each other and not yelling at each other. ... We continue to be a team that has good chemistry and do what we need to do to get the job done."

Idbihi scored 18 points and Parnell Smith added 15 for Buffalo, which shot 45 percent (27-of-60) but just 5-of-22 from the arc.

"We shot better from the field in the first half and maybe it was fatigue that got under us a little bit," said Bulls guard Eric Moore, who scored 14 points.