Pittsburgh has seemed comfortable playing at Madison Square Garden in recent years, except when facing the arena’s home team.
Coming off a roller-coaster week, the 13th-ranked Panthers look to avoid a fourth straight loss to St. John’s at MSG when the Big East rivals meet Wednesday night.
After opening last week with a 69-60 win over then-No. 5 Georgetown on Monday, Pittsburgh (15-3, 3-2) suffered a 62-59 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday.
The Panthers will try and bounce back at the Garden, where they are 18-8 since 2000-01. They beat then-No. 6 Duke 65-64 in overtime there on Dec. 20, and won the 2003 Big East title on that floor.
Pitt, though, has lost three straight versus St. John’s (7-9, 1-4) at MSG and is 1-5 all-time there against the Red Storm. St. John’s, which plays seven home games this season at the Garden and is 1-1 there so far, beat Pittsburgh 55-50 on Jan. 21, 2006 in the teams’ last meeting in New York.
The Red Storm, however, had little chance in Pittsburgh last season, losing 72-46 on Jan. 27. Sam Young was the Panthers’ second-leading scorer in that game, coming off the bench to finish with 11 points, and the junior forward is now the team’s top scorer in his first season as a starter.
Young led Pitt with 24 points and nine rebounds against the Bearcats. It was the seventh time he has scored 20 points or more this season.
Young is averaging 18.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and has topped the 20-point mark in three of his last four contests. With injuries mounting, the Panthers have had to lean more on him.
Forward Mike Cook tore a knee ligament against Duke, and point guard Levance Fields broke his left foot in the next game, an 80-55 loss to Dayton on Dec. 29 that ended Pitt’s 11-0 start.
Against Cincinnati, forward Keith Benjamin jammed and cut his right hand late in the first half, and had trouble shooting when he returned wearing a wrap. Benjamin, who has taken Cook’s spot in the lineup and is averaging 16.0 points in his last six games, is expected to play Wednesday.
“Keith had to get his hand stitched up, and he came back and played,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. I’m proud of him for doing that.”
The Panthers had been playing well despite injuries to Cook and Fields. They won four straight before Saturday’s game. Ronald Ramon has taken over for Fields at point guard, and he is averaging 6.6 assists in his last six games.
Pitt will face a St. John’s team that is having yet another terrible season in Big East play. The Red Storm have lost three straight since winning their only conference game of the season, 70-58 over Cincinnati on Jan. 5.
St. John’s has lost five of six overall, shooting under 40 percent from the field in each of its losses during that span. The Red Storm are 17-52 in Big East games since the start of the 2003-04 season.
A 21-for-53 (39.6 percent) shooting night against West Virginia doomed St. John’s to a 73-64 loss on Thursday. Leading scorer Justin Burrell fouled out with only six points.
Burrell, however, has been one of the few bright spots for St. John’s, leading the team with 12.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Fellow freshman D.J. Kennedy has also played well in the paint, averaging 7.0 boards a contest.