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Pitt right at home in beating St. John's

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Jamie Dixon has always considered Madison Square Garden a home-away-from-home for his Pittsburgh Panthers.

It was at the Garden where Dixon won his first game as Pittsburgh's coach in the 2003-04 opener, the first of his team's 21 wins at the iconic building. With the exception of its home court, the Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh has played its most games at the Garden in that span.

No. 20 Pitt enjoyed another stellar performance at the Garden by turning back St. John's 63-47 on Sunday. The Panthers are 30-15 at Madison Square Garden since 2000.

With Pittsburgh (21-7, 9-6 Big East Conference) bolting for the ACC next season, the coming Big East Tournament in March will be the Panthers' final conference appearance at the Garden.

Dixon said Pittsburgh made a decision 10 years ago to try to play in New York once a season, a commitment he said will continue even after Pitt leaves the Big East.

"We love playing here," Dixon said. "We want to come back here and play in a couple of tournaments. It's a constant battle looking at the schedule, but we're positioned to come back here and play for obvious reasons."

Dixon has used the games at the Garden as a spotlight to recruit from the fertile New York City metropolitan area. One of those players, senior guard Tray Woodall from Brooklyn, was a major factor in the Panthers breaking their two-game losing streak on Sunday.

Woodall, who played for nationally-recognized St. Anthony of Jersey City (N.J.), poured in a season-high 25 points. He also contributed two assists and two steals.

"I love playing in front of my family," Woodall said. "This place is the Mecca. Early in my career I had to get used to the rims, but I got more comfortable."

Woodall is just the seventh player in Panthers history to reach 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career.

"He was terrific in every way today," Dixon said. "Every shot he took was a good shot. He handled the ball well and played good defense. His shot selection, either off the dribble or catch and shoot, was good.

"We're going to continue to recruit here. The best events are here, the NIT, the Jimmy V. You have to get invited to play in the Garden and we've been fortunate to get invited."

JaKarr Sampson led St. John's (16-11, 8-7) with 14 points. The Red Storm's leading scorer, D'Angelo Harrison, was held to six points on 1-of-12 shooting from the floor.

St. John's took its last lead at 33-32 early in the second half before Pittsburgh used a 14-7 run to pull away 47-39 with 9 minutes to play. Woodall dropped in six points in the run.

The Red Storm's perimeter shooting failed them in the second half. Coach Steve Lavin's squad didn't convert any of its eight 3-pointers and were an abysmal 7 of 27 overall from the floor (25.9 percent) in the half.

The Panthers scored 17 points off St. John's turnovers, getting quickly down the floor on run-outs for easy baskets.

"Pittsburgh came into the Garden and grinded out a victory, which you so often have to do in Big East games," Lavin said. "They were able to get easy looks before our defense was even set.

"I think we were kind of in the desert offensively and that's a credit to Pittsburgh in terms of their defense. But also there were things that we could have done more effectively in terms of being more patient and having better shot selection."

Pittsburgh never trailed in the first half, taking a 30-27 lead into the locker room. Woodall topped the Panthers in the half with 10 points. He and 7-foot center Steven Adams combined for all of Pittsburgh's points when it jumped out to a 13-6 edge.

Greene led the Red Storm with nine points.

Pittsburgh has won five of its last seven road games and has claimed 31 of its last 51 away from home. Dixon is 10-3 against St. John's.

Notes: Over the last 12 seasons, Pittsburgh has been the Big East Conference's leader in overall winning percentage (.770), league winning percentage (.685), Big East championships (six), Big East Tournament wins (20) and NCAA appearances (10). ... Pittsburgh guard James Robinson is on course to break the school record for assist-to-turnover ratio for a freshman. Robinson's ratio is 3.03 to 1 and would beat Sean Miller's record of 2.27 to 1 set in 1987-88. ... St. John's 6-foot-9 freshman Chris Obekpa is second in the nation in blocked shots with 110.
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