for this game

Big runs help Providence shock No. 1 Pittsburgh

Feb 25, 2009 - 5:57 AM PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Ticker) -- Weyinmi Efejuku helped put a bolt into Providence's chances of a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Efejuku scored 16 points and Sharaud Curry added 15 as Providence held on for an 81-73 upset of top-ranked Pittsburgh in a Big East stunner on Tuesday.

Jonathan Kale scored 13 points for the Friars (17-11, 9-7 Big East), who claimed their first win over a No. 1 team since beating Michigan here on December 29, 1976, improving to 2-10 all-time.

Providence also snapped an eight-game losing streak against Pittsburgh while securing another signature win for its tournament resume. The Friars, who have not been in the NCAAs since 2004, also beat then-No. 15 Syracuse here on January 28.

"It's definitely a relief," Providence senior guard Jeff Xavier told the Providence Journal. "This group of seniors has been through hell and back. We were more determined than ever."

The Friars, however, were coming off a rough loss, getting pounded by Notre Dame, 103-84, on Saturday. It was one of six Big East games in which they gave up 90 or more points.

"We knew we had to get this one," Kale told the Journal. "It happened to be Pitt and they happened to be number one. We came together and willed ourselves. We've been through so much this season and in our careers and we just really wanted it."

Moving atop the coaches' poll for the second time this season on Monday, the Panthers (25-3, 12-3) struggled with turnover issues and foul concerns for top player DeJuan Blair.

Blair, who fouled out in the closing minute, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds as Pittsburgh had a seven-game winning streak snapped.

"Obviously it was a disappointing game for us," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon told the newspaper. "We didn't play well and they did. The score was very indicative of that."

The Panthers were sloppy with the ball early, committing 10 turnovers in the first half as the Friars built a 44-26 lead at the break.

Efejuku had all seven of his points in the first half during Providence's 15-4 start to the contest.

Not a team known for much defensive prowess, the Friars saw Pittsburgh quickly claw back into the contest, closing within 29-25 on Blair's jumper with 6:20 remaining.

In his first season with Providence after guiding Drake on a surprising season that included a trip the the NCAA Tournament last year, Keno Davis called a quick timeout to try and stem the tide, a move that paid off handsomely as his squad responded with a 10-0 run after the brief talk.

"I don't know if many people really gave us a chance tonight, but I really felt like in our locker room there wasn't much doubt that we could win if we played our best basketball," Davis told the paper. "We hadn't played our best basketball yet."

Overall, the Friars closed the half on a 15-1 burst, taking the 18-point lead in part due to 12 points by Kale.

Looking for a much better effort after the intermission, the Panthers scored five of the first seven points over the first two minutes but Jeff Xavier hit a 3-pointer and, after a turnover by Blair, Efejuku found Curry streaking down the court for a layup and a 51-31 cushion.

Although it would slice that deficit down to 10 points with 13:50 to play, Pittsburgh saw Randall Hanke hit a jumper and Blair later get whistled for two quick fouls that forced him to the bench with four and the Panthers trailing, 57-42, after Hanke completed a three-point play with 10:43 left.

Providence would push that lead up to 61-44 on Xavier's 3-pointer before Pittsburgh made another push, closing within 68-56 following one of the four baskets from the arc by freshman Ashton Gibbs with 5:37 left.

The Panthers continued to try and rally, getting within 72-63 on a fastbreak layup by Levance Fields with 3:47 left. However, late turnovers doomed them.

"When you dig a hole of 18 points, you make it a situation where you almost have to play perfect," said Dixon, whose team finished with 18 giveaways.

With Pittsburgh down 73-63, Sam Young had the ball knocked away on a drive in the lane. The senior forward later grabbed a steal in the backcourt with his team down by seven points but could not complete a layup as he had the ball knocked out of bounds by Providence's Marshon Brooks as he was trying to collect himself for the shot.

Although the Panthers retained possession, Young committed another of his four turnovers shortly after when he got into the lane and passed to Blair, who had the ball knock off of him as he was setting up position for a rebound with 1:36 to play.

Blair did grab on offensive rebound and score on a putback to bring Pittsburgh within 75-70 with 51 seconds left, but fouled out six seconds later trying to set a screen for Fields with his team trailing, 77-70.

Efejuku made three of four free throws down the stretch and Curry split a pair as the Friars sealed their first win over the Panthers since a victory here on January 23, 2001.

Young had 16 points and eight rebounds and Gibbs scored 15 for Pittsburgh, which travels to Seton Hall on Saturday before finishing the regular-season with home games vs. Marquette and Connecticut.

The Friars will face Rutgers on the road on Sunday and Villanova on Thursday.