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Blair outduels Harangody as Pitt rallies past Notre Dame

Jan 31, 2009 - 10:46 PM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- DeJuan Blair and Pittsburgh needed just three days to bounce back from a tough loss. Luke Harangody and Notre Dame will have another four days to shoot for a long-awaited victory.

Blair went toe-to-toe with Harangody in a matchup between the Big East Conference's best big men as the third-ranked Panthers used a second-half explosion to defeat No. 22 Notre Dame, 93-80, on Saturday afternoon.

The 6-7 Blair, who has been plagued by foul trouble at times this season, scored 23 points and grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds to lead Pittsburgh (19-2, 7-2 Big East), which survived Notre Dame's first-half barrage to hand the Fighting Irish their fifth consecutive loss.

"I thought coming into today that DeJuan would have a chance for a big game if we could keep him on the floor," Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon said.

Blair became the first Pittsburgh player to collect 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game since Chris McNeal achieved the feat in March 1992. The sophomore recorded the ninth 20-20 performance in Pittsburgh history, and his 22 rebounds set a school record for a Big East game.

"It wasn't anything special today or anything different than what I usually do," said Blair, who hauled in 11 offensive rebounds and posted his 28th double-double of the season. "I just try to let the game come to me and make sure I'm going hard after rebounds."

The outstanding interior play of Blair offset another superb performance from the 6-8 Harangody, who finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

"(Harangody) is a very good player," Blair said. "He's hard to guard because he's so quick on his feet. ... It was a good challenge for me to go up against a guy with his talent level."

"Notre Dame's lineup is really four perimeter players, leaving just Blair and Harangody in the paint to battle it out," Dixon added. "When you have two players with their talent levels, that situation is going to lead to big games for both of them, like it did today."

Harangody, the Big East's preseason Player of the Year, certainly was impressed by Blair.

"He never stops working," Harangody said. "I love his game. Twenty-two rebounds is tough to do in one game."

Following a pair of impressive victories over Syracuse and West Virginia, the Panthers crumbled in the second half of Wednesday's 67-57 loss at Villanova.

Pittsburgh appeared headed toward another nail-biter in this one, as Luke Zeller led Notre Dame to a 45-39 halftime lead.

But Pittsburgh's trio of Blair, Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon were too much for Notre Dame in the second half, combining to score 36 points after the break.

"In the second half, we struggled," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "What hurt us was Pitt's offensive rebounding. They were able to get the rebounds and the second-chance baskets. It's disappointing."

Fields finished with 17 points and seven assists while Dixon scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half.

Freshman Ashton Gibbs scored all 13 of his points in the first half, matching a career high, while Brad Wanamaker chipped in 13 points for the Panthers, who outscored the Fighting Irish (12-8, 3-6) by a 54-35 margin after the break and enjoyed a 46-27 edge on the glass.

"When we got into halftime, we renewed our focus defensively and were able to take away some of their outside shooting," Dixon said. "That really carried us the rest of the way."

Zeller scored all 18 of his points in the first half for Notre Dame, which is mired in its longest losing streak since January 20-February 4, 2006.

"We're halfway through Big East play," said Notre Dame forward Zach Hillesland, who scored 12 points off the bench. "We're just going to take it one game at a time and try and focus on getting back on the winning track."

Notre Dame rode the hot shooting of Zeller to build a 45-39 halftime lead. Zeller shot 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes for the Irish, who made 11 first-half 3-pointers.

But Pittsburgh opened the second half on an 22-6 run and took a 61-51 lead on Fields' jumper with 14:17 minutes remaining.