With Sam Young leading the way offensively and DeJuan Blair pulling down nearly every rebound that came his way, Pittsburgh rolled over an America East opponent in its latest lopsided win.
There’s little reason to believe Maryland-Baltimore County will provide much of a challenge either.
Another America East foe is all that remains between the Panthers and their sixth consecutive 10-0 start Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Fast starts have been the norm at Pitt since Jamie Dixon took over prior to the 2003-04 season. Yet there’s reason to believe this one may last beyond the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, a level Dixon failed to advance past in his first five seasons in the Steel City.
If the Panthers (9-0) do go far in March, Young and Blair will likely be the biggest reasons. Last season Young was the Big East’s most improved player, upping his scoring average from 7.2 points to 18.1. He’s stepped it up again in 2008-09, scoring 20.8 points per game thus far.
He’s averaging 24.6 points over his previous five games, and had 28 last Saturday against Vermont in an 80-51 win, Pitt’s sixth by at least 19 points.
“It really started last year with Sam carrying the weight for us offensively,” Dixon said. “We definitely run more set plays for him than any other player I’ve had at Pitt, but it’s because Sam is able to handle it. He’s so mentally and physically tough and so well-conditioned that he never stops attacking.”
If Young or another of his Panther teammates misses, Blair is usually there to scoop up the rebound. The sophomore forward is second in the nation with 13.4 rebounds per game, but his 6.1 per game on the offensive glass are by far the most in the nation.
With that kind of impact underneath, Blair creates a lot of easy shots for himself. His 62.8 field-goal percentage is among the top 20 in the country.
Blair’s rebounding totals are even more impressive considering he only plays 26 minutes per game. He had 13 points and 16 boards—seven offensive—in 23 minutes in the win over Vermont.
“I think good offensive rebounding come from good shots,” Dixon said after Blair grabbed 10 offensive boards in a win over Duquesne on Dec. 3. “But beyond that, DeJuan’s a special player who has a nose for the ball and great hands. It’s something he’s done exceptionally well from the moment he stepped on campus.”
Blair should have plenty more chances against UMBC, which is 235th nationally in rebounding at 33.9 per game.
The Retrievers (5-3) got outrebounded 38-30 Wednesday against Central Connecticut State, but got 17 points from Darryl Proctor in a 67-56 win.
Proctor is UMBC’s best player, averaging 17.9 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds despite his 6-foot-4 frame. If the Retrievers are to have a chance against Blair and the Panthers, though, forwards Rich Flemming (5.6 rpg) and Justin Fry (3.6) will need to step up.
Meanwhile, 5-foot-8 guard Jay Greene will have his hands full against Pitt senior Levance Fields, who’s averaging 11.0 points and a Big East-best 7.0 assists. Greene, however, has dished out 7.1 assists per game.
Pitt has won 35 straight non-conference home games. The Panthers beat UMBC in their only previous meeting, 84-56 at home in 1998.