Jan. 31, 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) - DeJuan Blair watched most of Pittsburgh's previous game from the bench because of foul trouble.

He didn't have that problem against Notre Dame on Saturday, and the sophomore center responded in a big way.

Blair had 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds and the third-ranked Panthers rallied from a rare halftime deficit for a 93-80 victory, the Fighting Irish's fifth straight loss.

Levance Fields scored 17 points, Jermaine Dixon had 16 and reserves Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker both added 13 for the Panthers (19-2, 7-2 Big East), who bounced back from a loss at Villanova on Wednesday to win their 15th consecutive home game.

In that loss, Blair had seven points and four fouls in 23 minutes. He had three fouls in 31 minutes against Notre Dame, but his last two came in the final 1:32 of the game.

"I knew there would be rebound opportunities for DeJuan if we kept him on the floor," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "He was going to be around the basket, we just had to keep him on the floor."

Blair's 22 rebounds set a Pittsburgh record for Big East play. He became the eighth player in the school's history to record a 20-20 game, and the first since Chris McNeal had 27 points and 20 rebounds against Boston College on March 3, 1992.

"My team did a good job of getting me the ball," Blair said. "Twenty-two rebounds? I didn't know that. That's crazy. That's really something."

Blair, the fourth-leading rebounder in the nation with a 12.4 average, said he was motivated by his matchup against Luke Harangody, the Big East's leading scorer and third-leading rebounder in the country at 13.3.

Harangody finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame (12-8, 3-6).

"I like playing against him," Blair said. "He's a great player. It was a challenge for me, and I think I stepped up big. It was a good game for me."

Harangody said Blair is the toughest player to go against in the Big East.

"He never stops working," he said. "I love his game. Twenty-two rebounds is tough to do in one game. But their whole team played well, and it showed."

Luke Zeller added 18 points, all on 3-pointers, for Notre Dame, while Zach Hillesland added 12 and Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney both had 10.

Notre Dame finished with 12 3-pointers, 11 in the first half.

The losing streak for the Irish, who were ranked as high as No. 7 this season, has been all against Top 25 opponents.

"Notre Dame is very good," Dixon said. "They're playing tough people. In our league, with the great teams you play, somebody has to lose."

Pittsburgh trailed 45-39 at halftime, just the second time this season the Panthers were behind at intermission. Pitt trailed Rutgers 43-39 on Dec. 31 before pulling out a 78-72 win.

"We didn't panic at halftime," Dixon said. "We just had to do some things better, different. Our guys understood that."

The Panthers wiped out Notre Dame's lead with an 18-4 run to start the second half.

A 3-pointer from Fields, a three-point play by Sam Young and another basket from Young put Pittsburgh ahead for good, 47-45, with 18:02 left.

"What hurt us is how we started the second half," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "You can't do that against a really good team in their building. It's hard to overcome."

The run was the lone bright spot for Young, Pitt's leading scorer, who was held to five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

Two baskets from Blair put Pittsburgh ahead 51-47, and 3-pointers from Dixon and Fields gave the Panthers a 57-49 lead with 15:33 left.

Another 3-pointer from Dixon made it 66-55, and Notre Dame got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Notre Dame's 80 points were the most Pitt has allowed this season.

"A silver lining," Brey said. "When we had 45 on the board (at halftime), I said to my staff, 'Let's get 90.' Even 90 wouldn't have got it done today."

Notre Dame, which was making its first visit to the Petersen Events Center in over three years, took a 20-10 lead with 13:35 left in the first half. The Irish connected on six 3-pointers during their early run, including four from Zeller.

After Pittsburgh cut Notre Dame's lead to 23-21, the Irish went back ahead 32-24 with 6:00 left behind two 3-pointers from Ayers and another long-range shot from Zeller.

The Panthers rallied to tie the game at 34 before Notre Dame went ahead behind 3-pointers from Kyle McAlarney and Zeller.

"They looked like a team that had won four in a row," Fields said. "They played hard. They gave us everything we could handle. We did a good job of responding. We got the lead and put the game away."