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Hot-shooting Pittsburgh surges past Marquette

Mar 5, 2009 - 6:02 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Though Marquette clearly misses the presence of Dominic James, the diminutive point guard would not have helped against Pittsburgh's physicality.

Blair had 23 points and nine rebounds and Sam Young had 18 and eight as No. 4 Pittsburgh blew past 15th-ranked Marquette, 90-75, in a Big East Conference matchup on Wednesday.

Levance Fields added 17 points and 10 assists for the Panthers (27-3, 14-3 Big East), who shot 63 percent (34-of-54) from the floor to pull within one game of each Connecticut (15-2) and Lousiville (15-2) for the conference lead. Pittsburgh hosts Connecticut on Saturday.

"It was a great atmosphere, a great night and a great win over a great team," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "Marquette really battled hard all night and executed their game plan very well. We got down a little bit in the second half, but I felt like we were still playing pretty well. The key for us was not to panic. We stayed calm and were able to come out on top."

Pittsburgh, which improved to 18-0 at home this season, led by one midway through the second half before pulling away with a 23-4 run.

Fields scored seven points and Gilbert Brown hit a trio of jumpers from just inside the arc as the Panthers made eight straight shots during their burst.

"It felt really good out there tonight, especially getting some extended minutes," Brown said. "I was able to really get in the flow of the game, and make some contributions on both ends of the floor."

Marquette (23-7, 12-5) began to wear down and couldn't keep up - missing six straight shots at one point - as it lost its third straight game without James. The 5-11 senior is lost for the season after suffering a broken foot against Connecticut last week.

Jerel McNeal scored 23 points and Lazar Hayward had 22 to pace the Golden Eagles, who are tied for fourth place in the Big East with Villanova (12-5). The top four teams in the conference receive byes into the quarterfinals.

"Over the last 10-minute stretch they were physically dominant," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said of his team. "Our mindset was fine, our guys knew where we were at. In regards to our guards, I'll take these guys playing tired as opposed to subbing because they give us our best chance of winning."

Blair got off to a good start inside and Pittsburgh led by as many as 10 midway through the first half.

"We knew that we had a bit of a height advantage coming into the game, and that I was going to get a lot of touches down low early," Blair said. "When I got fouled, I just wanted to concentrate on hitting my shots, which fortunately I was able to do tonight. I love a game that's physical."

Marquette made four straight attempts from the arc, closing within 37-34 but Pittsburgh nudged the advantage up to 43-36 at the break

The Golden Eagles came out firing to start the second half, scoring the first seven points before taking a 49-46 edge on Wesley Matthews' three-point play with 17:34 remaining.

McNeal's 3-pointer capped a 21-5 run to start the half as Marquette took a 57-48 bulge, but Pittsburgh responded with the next nine points to level the contest with 13:53 to play.

"Marquette was able to overcome (our defense) by hitting some threes early, and making us adjust a little bit," Dixon said. "I thought our switches on defense were good and crisp, and that after we fell behind it was just a matter of sticking with our stuff, just playing a little tighter."

The teams battled for control of the contest for the next few minutes before the Panthers pulled away down the stretch.