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Pittsburgh gains spot in Big East final

Mar 15, 2008 - 5:53 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Pittsburgh is back in a familiar spot - the championship game of the Big East Conference tournament.

Sam Young scored 22 points to lift the Panthers to a 68-61 victory over No. 24 Marquette on Friday in a conference semifinal matchup.

Point guard Ronald Ramon added 14 points for Pittsburgh (25-9), which turned back a strong second-half rally by the Golden Eagles to earn a spot in the title game for the third straight season and seventh time in eight years.

"Playing at the garden is special in front of friends and family, but we come in here with one goal and that goal is win the championship," Ramon said.

The Panthers will meet top-seeded Georgetown for the championship Saturday night looking to avenge a loss in last season's title game.

With four players from the New York City area, Pitt is seeking to become the second team to record four wins to capture the conference title, matching Syracuse in 2006.

"It's nice to come back home and play in front of family, friends and fans, but it's time to cash in and win the championship," guard Levance Fields said. "We're happy to be playing in the championship game, but as I said, it's time to cash in and win."

Leading by double digits for much of the game, Pittsburgh built a 16-point advantage (40-24) and appeared to be on cruise control.

Marquette (24-9) refused to wilt, closing within 56-52 on four straight points by second-leading scorer Dominic James, who was scoreless until there was 7:39 to play.

"I have to give credit to the defense and my shots were off," James said. "I got caught up trying to shoot first and be a point guard second and my shots were falling."

The Panthers pushed the lead back to 10 only to see the Golden Eagles inch back to within 62-59 on a follow by James with 1:18 to play.

Pittsburgh's experience in a big spot showed, however. After making just 8-of-18 free throws to start the game, Fields and Young buried two apiece to extend the margin to 66-59 with just 34 seconds left.

"A great win for us against a very good team," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. "We jumped out to a very good start and executed good. We made good shots and stepped up on defense."

Jerel McNeal scored 17 points to lead Marquette, which could not overcome a ragged opening half after which it trailed, 35-22.

The Golden Eagles scored just one point in the final nine minutes of the first half, missed their last 16 shots. Four of their five starters were scoreless, with McNeal accounting for half of their 22 points.

"We showed great character in the second half," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "We didn't shoot good in the first half and we didn't play good defense in the first half and it showed. What we did in the second half, we had to do in the first half."