Young leads Pittsburgh past Vaughn, Cincinnati in Big East tournament
NEW YORK (AP)—With a bunch of players from New York on its roster, Pittsburgh once again seems to be making itself right at home at Madison Square Garden.
Sam Young scored 21 points, matching Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn nearly shot for shot, and Pittsburgh held on to beat Cincinnati 70-64 on Wednesday night in the first round of the Big East tournament.
Ronald Ramon, who grew up in the Bronx, hit four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points for seventh-seeded Pittsburgh (23-9), which advanced to play second-seeded Louisville on Thursday. Keith Benjamin, who grew up just north of the city, added 15 points and Brooklyn’s Levance Fields had 10.
“This is like our home away from home,” Young said. “We’ve got a lot of New York guys on the team. Their families come out and support us, and they feel like they’re home every time we step in the Garden.”
The Panthers, who have played in the last two Big East title games and six of the last seven, will try to avenge a 75-73 home loss to Louisville in their only regular-season meeting last month. Pittsburgh has won 16 of its last 22 conference tournament games and is now 20-8 at the Garden since 2001-02, where its fans turn out in droves.
The Panthers needed all the encouragement they could get from a full house to put away pesky Cincinnati, which wrapped up its season with six straight losses, including an embarrassing 96-51 rout by Connecticut in its regular-season finale.
Vaughn hit five 3-pointers and finished with 30 points, and at one point scored 20 straight in the second half for the 10th-seeded Bearcats (13-18). Even Pittsburgh fans rose from their seats when he kept hitting 3-pointers and circus-style layups late in the game.
“I’ve been asking him to do too much since I signed him,” said second-year Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who brought his first team to the Big East tournament. “But I guess you ask him to do too much, it’s better to ask him to score than play defense.
“He stepped to the plate,” Cronin said. “The guy scored 30 points, six assists. … I don’t know what else you can ask.”
Rashad Bishop added 11 points and Jamual Warren 10 for the Bearcats, who managed to slow down Pittsburgh star DeJuan Blair, the league’s co-rookie of the year.
Blair finished with just two points and six rebounds, routinely fighting through double- and triple-teams in a clogged up post.
“He didn’t handle it great but we got some other things out of it,” Pittsburgh coach Jaime Dixon said. “We figured his scoring would be down a little bit because of the way they play.”
The Panthers led 31-25 at halftime in a game that slowed down to a trudge. They never really got any breathing room, mostly because Vaughn wouldn’t let it happen.
When Fields hit consecutive 3-pointers with just under 10 minutes to go, Vaughn answered with 3s of his own—four in a row, to be exact, the last one from the top of the key and well beyond the NBA 3-point line that made it 56-54 with 6:52 left.
Young answered with a couple of free throws, then a putback a couple of minutes later, helping to push the lead back to seven with 5:09 to go.
“I don’t know how he’s not an unanimous all-Big East player,” Cronin said. “I’d like to know who didn’t vote for him.”
The Panthers have been at their best late in games, sporting a nifty 22-0 record when leading with less than 5 minutes left. But the overmatched Bearcats and their 6-foot-1 sophomore guard didn’t make this one easy.
Vaughn’s three-point play with 1:11 left made it 64-60, and his two free throws with 41.3 seconds remaining made it 67-64.
But after a Pittsburgh free throw, Vaughn drove the lane with just under 20 seconds left and had his shot swatted away by Young, who had four blocks and always seemed to come through when it mattered the most.
“I think every game is going to come down to my defense and our team’s defense,” Young said. “The opportunity presented itself today.”