Jan. 19, 2009

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (AP) - Pittsburgh went through more than half a season without losing, then faced the realistic possibility of losing twice in three days.

The Panthers didn't let it happen, making sure everything that went wrong in its first loss - the lack of rebounding, the poor down-the-stetch shooting - wasn't repeated.

Sam Young pulled out of a three-game slump by scoring 19 of his 22 points in the second half and No. 4 Pittsburgh surged shortly after halftime to defeat No. 8 Syracuse 78-60 on Monday night.

"The big thing in this league (the Big East) is not turning one (loss) into two," point guard Levance Fields said.

DeJuan Blair, also coming off a poor game during a 69-63 loss at Louisville on Saturday night that ended Pitt's two-week stay at No. 1, was strong inside with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Blair's toughness keyed a rugged and at times intimidating defense. The Panthers outrebounded the Orange 40-28 and held them nearly 22 points below their scoring average.

Several Syracuse players were seen complaining to the officials that Pitt (17-1, 5-1) was being too physical, and the Orange (17-3, 5-2) drew two technical fouls less than three minutes apart during the first half.

Young, Pitt's leading scorer with an 18.7 average, made seven of 12 shots after going only 15-of-49 in his previous three games. Pitt missed 15 of its final 16 shots while losing a 10-point lead at now-No. 9 Louisville.

"But as soon as we got on the airplane, we forgot about it," Blair said. "Sometimes you're going to come up short."

As Syracuse knows. The Orange went 1-2 during a three-game stretch against ranked Georgetown, Notre Dame and Pitt, beating only the Irish.

"When you don't play well offensively, this is what's going to happen in this league," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "But I told the players, we're 17-3 and 5-2, and that's better than we're supposed to be. It's frustrating when you lose, but you have to understand where you are."

Andy Rautins hit five 3-pointers while scoring 17, but Orange leading scorer Jonny Flynn made three of 14 shots while being held to 12 points, four below his average.

"It was him (Rautins) - and nobody else," Blair said.

Pitt began pulling away by scoring nine consecutive points, finished off by Young's layup off Jermaine Dixon's pass, to make it 42-35 with 15:21 remaining. The Panthers stretched the lead to 53-40 on Fields' drive, and Syracuse got no closer than seven after that.

Pittsburgh also went on a 9-0 run midway through the first half to take a 20-11 lead. The advantage would have been bigger if the Panthers made some free throws - they missed six of their first seven, including all four by Fields following the technicals. Fields had 15 points and six assists, and Pitt ended up 9-of-17 at the line.

"We were in the game, but we still were frustrated," Boeheim said. "We shouldn't have been frustrated."

The Orange answered with a 9-0 run of their own, finished off by Rautins' 3-pointer that gave them their first lead at 28-27.

Blair came back to make two free throws, drawing loud cheers from an announced crowd of 12,508 that looked to be even larger, and Pitt trailed only once after that. For one of the few times since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, the ticket demand was so great that students were turned away.

Syracuse, blanketed by Pitt's defense, couldn't come up with another run in the second half that would have tightened the game. The Orange came in averaging 81.5 points, but shot 41.8 percent (23-of-55) to Pitt's 53.3 percent (32-of-60).

Pitt was especially effective against Flynn, who scored 28 points as Pitt rallied to win 82-77 win at Syracuse last season after trailing by 11 with 3:49 remaining.

Pitt improved to 2-1 against ranked opponents, with its other win against Georgetown. Pitt has won its last three at home and six of eight overall from Syracuse, which five years ago became the first visiting team to win at the Petersen Center.

The crowd gave some of its biggest cheers to the three Steelers players spotted in the crowd - Ben Roethlisberger, Jeff Reed and Santonio Holmes, with Reed pointing proudly to his AFC championship T-shirt.