PITTSBURGH (AP)—Soon after Pitt reached No. 2 in the AP poll last season, the Panthers were lucky to escape Buffalo with a three-point victory in a game they were expected to win easily.
They didn’t forget that close call, and it showed in a 47-point rout of Buffalo on Friday night that was over well before the midway point of the first half.
Sam Young started Pittsburgh on an early 22-point run with a one-handed dunk, a 3-pointer from the baseline, a blocked shot and a steal and the No. 17 Panthers rolled to a 92-45 victory.
Buffalo (2-3), coming off a 17-point loss to Niagara, led 4-0 before being held scoreless for 6 minutes as Pitt surged to a 22-4 lead and went on to open a 28-point halftime lead.
The Panthers weren’t sluggish at all despite being off for a week since a 78-45 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 15, and they were very aware of Buffalo’s 76-69 victory over South Florida of the Big East last week.
“We watched film on them and we didn’t want a repeat of that,” Young said.
Young, playing a much bigger role in Pitt’s offense, ended with 20 points in 23 minutes and had eight rebounds as Pittsburgh opened 5-0 for the eighth consecutive season. The Panthers haven’t played on the road yet, and their average winning margin against a lightweight schedule is 29.8 points. Two wins were by 40 points-plus margins.
“If I have an opportunity to score, I go for it,” Young said. “My shooting is better and I’m seeing the floor a lot better off my dribble. I worked on my 3-point shooting this summer and it’s a bigger part of my game.”
Levance Fields came out of an early season shooting slump in which he had scored more than seven points only once, contributing 15 points and seven assists.
Keith Benjamin helped out with 17 points off the bench as Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, as he has done frequently, subbed out his starting five early and rotated in his bench players the rest of the way. Tyrell Biggs added 12 points and Gilbert Brown had 10.
Vadim Fedotov scored 13 points for Buffalo, which lost at home to Pitt 70-67 last year.
“Pitt was outstanding and their defense was great,” Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “They’re so much quicker than they were last year. I just think they were perfect.”
During those late-night shooting sessions in the Petersen Events Center, Young often had company—Benjamin, who, like Young, has upgraded his overall game this season. Benjamin averaged 3.3 points last season, but already has two games of 16 or more points this season.
“I’d go in there late at night and not expect to see anybody, and Keith would be in here shooting,” Young said.
Young, a 6-foot-6 power forward who averaged seven points last season, is largely responsible for Pitt’s upgraded offense. He is averaging 19 points and has scored 20 or more three times, something he had accomplished only once before this season.
Young’s outside shooting is much improved—he is 7-for-13 on 3-pointers after shooting only 28 percent beyond the arc his first two seasons. There’s nothing wrong with Young’s all-around game, either, as he also had four steals and three blocked shots.
“It’s amazing to see what he’s doing,” Dixon said. “He’s almost directing traffic defensively. His defense has been very solid.”
Dixon is allowing his players to play in a higher gear and to take more chances on defense, now that the Panthers are a quicker team. The last couple of seasons, with 7-footer Aaron Gray and 6-10 Levon Kendall in the lineup, they relied more on half-court sets.
“It’s enjoyable because we like going after people,” Benjamin said. “Last year they (Buffalo) gave us a game, and we wanted to get after them. We just didn’t know it was going to be that much of a blowout.”
Pitt freshman center DeJuan Blair, limited to nine minutes of playing time against Mississippi Valley State because of lower back soreness, had four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
Pitt leads the series 8-1, losing only in the first game 91 years ago.