for this game

Pitt pounds St. John's in debut as No. 1

Jan 11, 2009 - 9:47 PM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- After shaking off some rust, Pittsburgh certainly looked like the No. 1 team in the country.

DeJuan Blair scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds Sunday afternoon as the Panthers crushed St. John's, 90-67, in their debut as the nation's top-ranked team.

Jermaine Dixon scored a career-high 17 points for Pittsburgh, which is ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.

"Because it's the first time in the program's history, you take notice of (the No. 1 ranking)," Pittsburgh point guard Levance Fields said. "But we're smart, experienced players here, so no one's getting a big head or letting it change the way we play. There's still a long season to go."

"It's certainly a wonderful accomplishment," Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon added. "But you don't want things like that to distract you from the ultimate goal."

Playing for the first time in eight days, the Panthers (15-0, 3-0 Big East) got off to a slow start in this one and owned a slim three-point lead two minutes into the second half.

But after reeling off a 15-2 run to take a 58-42 lead with 12:27 remaining, Pittsburgh cruised to its fifth straight win over the Red Storm (10-5, 1-2).

"The first half we really battled," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "But they did a good job of wearing us down in the second half."

St. John's center Justin Burrell was bothered by a back injury throughout the contest and played just 18 minutes.

As a result, the Red Storm had no answer for the 265-pound Blair, who had 10 offensive rebounds and six steals.

"He's a Mack truck off the glass," Roberts said. "He's a very physical player and he has an excellent lower body, that's where rebounding comes from."

"He's a beast," added Red Storm forward D.J. Kennedy, who was a high school teammate of Blair. "He turns rebounds into points. He can go through a game and not even touch the ball and have 20 points from just rebounding."

Fields scored 13 points and dished out nine assists while Sam Young, the Panthers' leading scorer, added just 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

Kennedy finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for St. John's, which stormed out of the gate and hung with the more experienced Panthers throughout the first half.

Sean Evans' jumper with 17:40 remaining pulled the Red Storm within 43-40.

But Dixon drilled a 3-pointer just 20 seconds later, igniting the Panthers' pivotal 15-2 run. Young capped the outburst by making a jumper with 13:05 left.

"When they went on their run, we got down on ourselves," said Kennedy, a Pittsburgh native. "We should have kept fighting. When a team that's No. 1 goes on a run, it's tough to come back."

The Red Storm took their biggest lead of the first half when Kennedy sank a jumper to make it 21-17. St. John's went ahead, 29-26, on the sophomore swingman's 3-pointer with 5:36 left in the first half.

But Fields drained a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and Blair converted a three-point play 45 seconds later.

Still, it was a brutal first half for Pittsburgh, which entered the break with a precarious 41-36 lead.

The Panthers shot 15-of-36 (42 percent) from the floor, 7-of-15 (47 percent) from the free-throw line and committed nine turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.

"We know (free-throw shooting) is something that we have to get better at," Blair said. "With our depth, teams are going to foul us and put us on the line, so we know we have to knock them down to get where we want to go."

Pittsburgh capitalized on some sloppy play from the Red Storm, who committed 14 turnovers in the first half and 24 in the game.

Evans collected 13 points and nine rebounds while Rob Thomas scored 13 off the bench for St. John's, which has not defeated a top-ranked team since January 26, 1985.