PITTSBURGH (AP)—Sam Young was chosen as the Big East’s most improved player last season, and what impresses Akron coach Keith Dambrot is Young is even better this season.
So much better, Dambrot is willing to drop this name around him: LeBron James.
Young gave Akron problems no matter where he was on the floor, scoring 26 points and taking control during a Pittsburgh surge late in the first half that carried the No. 6 Panthers to an 86-67 victory on Friday night.
Levance Fields had 19 points and seven assists and the physical, 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair added 16 points, 13 rebounds and five steals for the Panthers (3-0). Young scored 11 of Pitt’s final 15 points in the first half as the Panthers doubled their lead from 28-19 to 45-27.
“Blair’s a beast and Sam Young is no picnic,” said Dambrot, who coached James—the Cleveland Cavaliers star—at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron.
“Sam Young physically reminds me of LeBron. Obviously, he’s not as good a player as LeBron, but he’s got that quick-twitch strength and ability to put the ball down. He’s a tough matchup.”
Brett McKnight had 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, but Akron (2-1) lost its 20th consecutive game against a Top 25 opponent. The Zips haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since moving into NCAA Division I in 1980-81—though one of their near misses came in their previous game in Pittsburgh, a 67-65 loss to then-No. 14 Pitt in January 1987 in which they led by nine in the second half.
They didn’t get nearly that close this time. Akron has nine freshmen on its roster and seven freshmen or sophomores in its rotation and lacked the experience and the size to compete with Pitt’s front line.
The Zips especially didn’t have an answer for the 6-7 Young, who increased his scoring average by more than 10 points per game last season to 18 points and has further expanded his game this season.
Young, a power forward who also can play on the wing, showed his versatility during the closing minutes of the first half. Young dunked twice, and missed a third on a breakaway, before making four free throws and moving into the corner to hit a 3-pointer. He was 2 of 3 beyond the arc.
“I was more aggressive,” said Young, who averaged 14.5 points in Pitt’s first two games. “When you’re hitting 3s, it makes the game a lot easier. … I knocked down a couple of 3s and it pretty much set up the rest of my game.”
Blair had more rebounds at halftime (10) than the nine the Zips had as a team, and Pitt ended with a 41-24 edge as Tyrell Biggs added 11 rebounds.
“Blair just bullies everybody,” Dambrot said. “If he bullies the Big East, he’s certainly going to bully the MAC.”
The 265-pound Blair led Pitt in steals last season, yet he was surprised to learn he had five of the game’s nine steals.
“That’s pretty good for a big man,” he said, smiling. “As long as I can rebound and help the team, I’m not worried about the points.”
Fields, the point guard who is recovering from two foot fractures since last December, has 27 assists and only two turnovers in three games although he said he is not yet in game shape.
Pitt has won its first three games by 71 points, beating Mid-American Conference schools Miami (82-53) and Akron by a combined 48 points. The Panthers have won their past seven games against MAC schools and are 27-0 in November games under sixth-year coach Jamie Dixon.
The game was part of the Legends Classic, a 12-team tournament being held at eight sites with a predetermined bracket in which Pitt, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Washington State are guaranteed of being in next weekend’s semifinals in Newark. Akron is playing four games at three sites in the event but had no route to the semifinals.