Spirit of ’76: Friars stun top-ranked Pitt 81-73

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP)—Pittsburgh lost its first game since being elevated to the No. 1 spot in the rankings and opened the door for Providence to make the NCAA tournament.

The Panthers fell behind 15-4, failed to score for six minutes at the end of the first half and then saw reigning Big East player of the week DeJuan Blair foul out in the final minute as Providence led wire-to-wire in an 81-73 win Tuesday night.

“I didn’t recognize us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’ve got high standards, and we didn’t live up to them tonight. That’s obvious.”

The Friars were coming off a 19-point loss to Notre Dame that might have eliminated their hopes of an NCAA berth. But with a signature victory—their first over a top-ranked team since 1976—and a virtual lock on a winning record in the tough Big East, the Friars may have salvaged their postseason.

“We’re in a pretty good situation: we’re in the top half of the best conference in the country,” coach Keno Davis said. “It puts us in the conversation. I’m sure if we had lost, they wouldn’t be talking about us anymore.”

Weyinmi Efejuku scored 16 points and Sharaud Curry added 15 for the Friars (17-11, 9-7), and Geoff McDermott had 11 points, six assists and three of Providence’s 11 steals.

Blair had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Sam Young had 16 points and eight rebounds for Pitt, which had won seven straight games and beaten Providence eight consecutive times.

Blair was named Big East player of the week after averaging 21 points and 20.5 rebounds in wins over then-No. 1 Connecticut and DePaul last week. He picked up two quick fouls—his third and fourth—midway through the second half, then his fifth with 46 seconds left after Pitt had a chance to make it a four-point game.

“He’s a special player,” Davis said. “You look and he got 17 points and eight boards and it’s a down night.”

Providence led by 20 points after scoring the first basket of the second half to complete a 17-1 run. The Panthers cut it to 75-70 on Blair’s putback with 51 seconds left. After Brian McKenzie hit two free throws for Providence a fraction of a second later, Pitt brought the ball down and Blair was called for an offensive foul.

The fans in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowded around the courtside press tables for the final minutes. Twice, the public address announcer begged the fans to stay off the court following the game; twice the crowd responded by laughing.

Sure enough, after the Friars dribbled out the last 20 seconds—it was too far gone for Pitt to try fouling—the fans went over the tables and chairs circling the court and celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history.

“We weren’t here to get rolled on,” Providence forward Jonathan Kale said. “We knew we had to win one. It happened to be Pitt. They happened to be No. 1.”

The Friars are 2-10 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, with their other victory coming in double overtime against Michigan in 1976. They are 2-5 against ranked teams this season, having also beaten then-No. 15 Syracuse on Jan. 28.

No. 18 LSU 81, Florida 75

At Baton Rouge, La., Marcus Thornton scored 32 points to help LSU clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

The Tigers (24-4, 12-1) have won nine straight overall and 12 in a row in SEC play. They can win their second outright conference title in the last four seasons with one victory in their last three games.

Garett Temple scored a career-high 21 points for the Tigers and Tasmin Mitchell added 12.

Walter Hodge paced the Gators (21-7, 8-5) with 16 points.

Boston College 72, No. 23 Florida State 67

At Boston, Tyrese Rice hit a key 3-pointer with 20.5 seconds to play and Joe Trapani scored 19 points to lead Boston College.

It was the Eagles’(20-9, 8-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) third win this season against one of the conference’s top teams. They handed then-No. 1 North Carolina its first loss on Jan. 4 in Chapel Hill and beat No. 7 Duke at home nine days ago.

Rice, who finished with just 11 points, was scoreless in the first half, but hit his 3 as the Eagles were clinging to a one-point lead. Rakim Sanders added 16 points and nine rebounds for Boston College.

Toney Douglas led the Seminoles (21-7, 8-5) with 19 points, but committed six of their 18 turnovers.

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