March 03, 2004

No. 6 Pittsburgh 88, No. 12 Providence 61

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Pittsburgh looked nothing like it did in its last game. Not even close.

The sixth-ranked Panthers did everything well, even shooting free throws, to beat No. 12 Providence 88-61 Tuesday night and move into a tie for first place in the Big East.

Just two days after a 49-46 overtime loss to Syracuse that snapped their 40-game home winning streak, the Panthers were an offensive machine, while still playing the defense they are known for.

``I can't say enough about how our guys responded and stepped up,'' first-year coach Jamie Dixon said. ``Obviously we played a very good game against a very good team and executed everything we had to.''

There wasn't much to complain about.

``We always think we can play better,'' Dixon said. He smiled and added: ``We'll look at the tape and find something we didn't do right.''

Freshman Chris Taft scored 24 points, Chevon Troutman had 23 and Carl Krauser added 22 as the Panthers snapped the Friars' six-game winning streak.

``We got a little frustrated with their toughness. Certainly Troutman and Taft showed their power,'' Providence coach Tim Welsh said. ``We may have been in a semi-shock that we were getting beat up a little bit. We were back on our heels and I didn't like that.''

Pittsburgh (26-3, 12-3) moved into a first-place tie with No. 7 Connecticut and both have one game remaining. The Panthers are home for Villanova on Saturday, while the Huskies are at No. 24 Syracuse on Sunday. They have both clinched byes into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

``I wasn't thinking of the Big East championship at all,'' Krauser said. ``The Big East championship was the least of my worries. If we come out and play the way we did, it will take care of itself.''

The Panthers played their usual great defense, holding Providence well below its 72.8 average, and they shot 59.2 percent (29-for-49) in falling two points shy of their highest scoring game of the season. They did a solid job on the boards, finishing with a 31-22 rebounding advantage.

``It was just a bounce back game,'' Troutman said. ``We executed our offense real well.''

Pittsburgh went 28-for-31 from the free throw line (90.3 percent), impressive for a team that entered the game 11th in the Big East at 63.1 percent.

``It's been improving all year long and we've been working on shooting a lot in practice,'' Dixon said. ``That's one of the things we want to improve on and it's been going up all year.''

Rob Sanders had 16 points for the Friars (20-6, 11-4), who had already clinched a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, but were looking for their first-ever conference title.

``We're still playing for a lot in this league,'' Welsh said. ``We don't want to drop two in a row going into New York, that's for sure.''

Taft dominated inside, while Troutman scored again and again on long passes, beating the Friars down court. The Panthers pulled away steadily from a 33-27 halftime lead. Taft scored six points in an 8-2 run that made it 58-43 with 9:26 to play and the sellout crowd of 12,993 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center was quieted.

Krauser said the long passes over the top were a reward for his big men.

``I just seen my big men run down the court beating them down and wanted to make sure I found them for layups,'' Krauser said.

This was the first matchup of teams ranked this high in Providence since No. 12 Providence beat No. 14 Holy Cross 90-64 on Jan. 18, 1978.

Pitt entered No. 1 in the Big East and No. 5 in the country in defense, allowing 57 points per game. The Panthers held the Friars to 35.8 percent shooting (19-for-53), including 4-for-19 from 3-point range.

Ryan Gomes, who entered the game averaging 19.6 points, had to sit out for eight minutes in the first half when he picked up his second foul. He finished 4-for-11 from the field and had three rebounds.

``You just have to give them credit, they just did a good job against us,'' Gomes said. ``We knew a lot was riding on this game and we tried to take it as just another game. We probably put too much pressure on ourselves and we were trying to do too much as a team.

``They played great defense on me. The fouls I got, I reached in. They were silly fouls on my part.''

Providence point guard Donnie McGrath didn't score and had just two assists in 33 minutes.

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