for this game

Benjamin, Biggs lead Pittsburgh over Lafayette

Jan 3, 2008 - 3:42 AM By Chris Adamski PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Both teams came out hot, but only shorthanded Pittsburgh managed to maintain the torrid pace.

The No. 13 Panthers, playing without both Mike Cook and Levance Fields for the first time, trailed at halftime but came back to shoot the lights out in the second half to win going away, 96-75, over Lafayette on Wednesday night.

After losing a starter to injury in each of the past two games and coming off its first loss of the season, Pittsburgh survived a long-range shooting display by a pesky Lafayette squad to get back on track.

Keith Benjamin scored 20 points and Tyrell Biggs added 19 as each posted career highs in points. Sam Young chipped in 19 points and seven rebounds and Ronald Ramon had 11 points and 10 assists as the Panthers (12-1) tied a Petersen Events Center record with their 28th consecutive win against a non-conference opponent.

"I think we learned something real valuable here tonight," said Benjamin, a senior who was making his first start in almost 22 months. "(The injuries) caught us off guard the other night and stuff kept rolling down hill. But we came back, and we talked it over and now we're here to play basketball again. We feel very strongly about our team still."

Benjamin and Biggs picked up the slack in the absence of Cook, a senior who had been the starting small forward until tearing his ACL in a win against Duke on December 20, and Fields, the junior starting point guard who fractured his left foot in an 80-55 loss at Dayton on Saturday.

Cook is expected to miss the rest of the season while Fields will be out 8-12 weeks and might not return until the postseason, if at all.

"We obviously are a new team," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We're not feeling sorry for ourselves but the facts remain that we've got two guys starting that played major minutes not with us now and we have become a new team; we had to the last few days. I thought (Wednesday) was really everything I could have hoped for."

Matt Betley had a career-high 20 points and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the arc for the Leopards (8-5), who made a season-high 17 3-pointers - a record for an opponent against Pitt. Lafayette's Bilal Abdullah added four 3-pointers for 12 points and Andrew Brown and Paul Cummins had three each.

The Leopards made 11 shots from 3-point range in the first half - as many as the Panthers had allowed all season in an entire game - and led by as many as seven points with 2:45 remaining in the half.

Pittsburgh closed with a 6-1 run but still trailed at the half for the fourth time in its past five games, 41-39. Lafayette shot 56 percent (14-of-25) in the opening 20 minutes, just a tick better than the Panthers' 55.6 percent (15-of-27).

"I think we're just trying figure out how to play defense against a team that shoots the ball that well," Ramon said. "We came into the locker room talking about it. We came out in the second half doing a better job talking and knowing what we had to do to better defend them."

Pittsburgh also came out of the locker room with its shooting touch still intact, doubling up the Leopards, 46-23, over the first 14 minutes of the second half. The Panthers shot a scorching 80 percent (20-for-25) in the second half to finished 35-of-52 (67 percent) for the game.

"I think we obviously shot the ball well in the first half," Lafayette coach Fran O'Harlan said. "We just got worn down against superior athletes. They made some great shots as the game went on and we didn't as the game went on."

Lafayette had won three of four coming in and were playing its sixth of eight straight road games.

Pitt has won 11 in a row at home and improved to 56-1 all-time against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center. It plays only within the Big East the remainder of the season, starting at Villanova on Sunday.

"I think this win gave a lot of people confidence going into the Big East," Biggs said. "And that's what we need."