PITTSBURGH (AP)—This was supposed to be the season Pitt underwent a personality change. The emphasis on winning with strong inside play, physical defense and size was supposed to shift to a greater reliance on guard play and outside shooting.
DeJuan Blair and Sam Young are having none of that.
Blair and Young teamed up inside to help No. 11 Pittsburgh open an 18-point lead at halftime, and the Panthers held off a brief second-half comeback by Oklahoma State to win 85-68 Saturday and end a three-game losing streak against the Cowboys.
The Panthers improved to 10-0 for the fifth season in a row under coach Jamie Dixon after finally handling the Cowboys, who kept them out of the NCAA regional finals four seasons ago and beat them 95-89 in double overtime last season when Pitt was No. 7.
Blair, a 265-pound freshman with strong inside moves and surprising quickness, repeatedly frustrated the guard-driven Cowboys early in the game with his ability to create second-chance points with his rebounding and putbacks— and the Cowboys never found an answer for him.
Blair finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals, scoring 10 points by midway through the first half and leading a 15-4 run that gave Pitt a 38-26 lead. The 6-foot-7 Blair is replacing 7-footer Aaron Gray, Pitt’s key player the last two seasons who created matchup problems with his size but is not as mobile and athletic as Blair is.
“He’s a little more aggressive,” the Cowboys’ Terrel Harris said of Blair, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds a week ago at Washington. “He loves that contact and gets in there and rebounds. He gets in there and bangs around, pushes people around. He’s just a very aggressive player.”
Young didn’t score until nearly 11 minutes were gone, but kept Pitt’s first-half surge going with 13 points in a span of about eight minutes as the Panthers built their lead to 49-31. Young ended with 15 points, three below his team-leading average, and Mike Cook also had 15 points.
Young averaged only seven points last season, but has upgraded his outside shooting—he is 14-of-25 on 3-point attempts—and is looking to score much more than he did last season.
“He took over,” Cowboys coach Sean Sutton said. “We feel like Marcus (Dove) can guard anybody in college basketball … but he carried them through that stretch. He made some big shots and big plays for them, Everything they shot in the first half seemed to go in.”
James Anderson, a 6-6 freshman trying for a fourth consecutive game of 20 or more points, was held to a season-low eight points on 2-of-8 shooting as the Cowboys’ outside shooting failed them in their first loss in four games. Marcus Dove had 17 points and Harris had 16.
“We knew if we took Anderson out of the game, we’d be in good shape,” point guard Levance Fields said. “Mike (Cook) was doing a great job of staying in his face.”
The Cowboys have attempted 30 or more 3-pointers four times and made 28 shots from beyond the arc during their three-game winning streak, only to go 6-of-21. Anderson, shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc previously this season, was 1-of-5.
Fields had 17 points and six assists and made a key 3-pointer with about 11 minutes remaining after the Cowboys (5-4) had cut the 18-point halftime deficit to seven points. Pitt went on to build its lead to as many as 19 points.
Dixon was pleased with his team’s shooting—the Panthers were 17-of-25, 68 percent, in the first half and 27-of-49 overall—during a week in which semester exams often limited the number of players at practice.
“We shot it well and defended well,” he said. “They’re a jump-shooting team, and we wanted to make them take contested shots, and we executed well on offense. There was a stretch in the first half where we ran five different plays in a row and executed all of them to perfection.”
Pitt, playing its only home game between Dec. 2 and Jan. 2, dealt Oklahoma State its 14th consecutive road loss dating to last season. The Panthers close out the month with two difficult games, against No. 6 Duke at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and at Dayton on Dec. 29.
Pitt won its 27th consecutive non-conference game at home and its 76th in 77 games, a run interrupted only by an upset loss to Bucknell nearly four years ago.
“This is a very difficult place to come into and win,” Sutton said.