PITTSBURGH (AP)—Pitt was tired, unhappy and determined. That made for a very bad combination for the Dayton Flyers, who were facing an opponent that rarely loses at home to teams outside the Big East Conference.
Sam Young made up for star center Aaron Gray’s off night by scoring 18 points and No. 7 Pittsburgh opened up big leads well before halftime, bouncing back from consecutive losses to ranked teams by roughing up Dayton 84-54 on Saturday night.
Young and Levance Fields teamed to lead the Panthers’ fast start as Pitt (11-2) led by 17 points before halftime and 20 early in the second half while bouncing back from its 95-89, double-overtime defeat to No. 15 Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City on Thursday night. That loss came after an 89-75 defeat to then-No. 7 Wisconsin when the Panthers were ranked No. 2.
“There are probably 12 teams out there capable of winning the national championship, and they’re one of them,” Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. “That team responded to two difficult losses and came out with a very high intensity level. We took their first punch, but we couldn’t take their second and third punches.”
Fields, who scored in double figures only once in Pitt’s first nine games, followed up a 15-point game against Oklahoma State with 14 points in the first half before finishing with 17, one off his career high.
“The coaches have told me to be more aggressive (on offense),” Fields said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Gray, who had 41 points in his last two games and was averaging 17.4, had a season-low five points but still had 15 rebounds.
“I thought we did a good job against him,” Gregory said. “But that team has a lot of depth. When they go to their bench, they don’t lose much and at times they get something different. I’ve seen some good teams, but they’re good.”
Brian Roberts scored 21 points for Dayton (10-2). The Flyers’ eight-game winning streak included an upset of Louisville of the Big East, but they are 0-2 on the road with a loss to SMU.
Young, whose previous career high was 16 points, is back in the flow of Pitt’s offense at power forward following an unsuccessful trial at small forward that ended this week. He responded with 10 points against Oklahoma State after being held scoreless in three of his previous five games. Against Dayton, he had seven points during a 12-2 run that increased Pitt’s lead from 27-20 to 39-22 just before halftime.
“When Sam plays like that, we’re very tough to beat,” Fields said after Pitt’s 66th victory in its last 67 home games against non-conference opponents.
Young said getting over a lingering knee injury, not the position switch, is the reason for his increased production.
“My play wasn’t because of a lack of ability, it’s me having a minor setback with my knees,” said Young, who, like Fields, is a sophomore. “When I’m healthy, I can make a greater contribution to the team. When your healthy, it’s a lot easier.”
Coach Jamie Dixon made certain to spread playing time among nine players almost from the start after four starters played 41 or more minutes against Oklahoma State—Young got his 18 points in only 19 points. The Panthers also were much better on the boards, holding a 45-22 edge after being outrebounded by a combined 22 rebounds in the two losses.
“I heard some people questioning our rebounding,” Fields said. “When we rebound like we can, that helps out everything. We played like Pitt can play. I think we frustrated them.”
Dixon was pleased to see Pitt get back to playing its more accustomed strong game on the defensive end, saying, “Outrebounding them by 23, that’s a pretty good step.”
Pitt has not lost three consecutive non-conference games since opening the 1996-97 season with losses to Illinois State, Navy and North Carolina.