NEW YORK (AP) -- Pittsburgh's recent success at Madison Square Garden didn't matter. Neither did the troubles the Panthers have had against St. John's in the building. All that was important was that Pittsburgh's last game was a loss.
"I think it was, for us, a great sign," coach Jamie Dixon said of his Panthers' 81-57 victory over St. John's on Wednesday night. "We came off a loss and responded in a lot of good ways. It was something we have done in the past and I was impressed with our guys."
Sam Young had 26 points for Pittsburgh (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP), which lost 62-59 at Cincinnati last Saturday to end a three-game winning streak.
"We were coming off a game where we didn't play well and we righted ourselves," said Young, who was 10-for-17 from the field including 3-for-6 on 3s. "That was pretty big. Now we have to maintain it."
"We are nowhere near where we need to be and we know that," Dixon said. "We can improve as a group. We are playing four freshmen of our eight guys. I look at it as an opportunity. The learning curve is greater for freshmen."
With six players getting the bulk of the minutes, Pittsburgh improved to 19-8 at Madison Square Garden since the 2000-01 season. Most of the victories came in the Big East tournament, an event in which the Panthers have reached the championship game in six of the last seven seasons. There was also the 65-64 overtime win over then-No. 6 Duke just before Christmas.
"It is always emotional to play at Madison Square Garden," said Ramon, one of five New York-area natives on Pittsburgh's roster. "The young guys were ready and the seniors, we have provided some leadership, and it all came together tonight."
Freshman DeJuan Blair had 10 points and eight rebounds for Pittsburgh, which is 5-2 all-time against St. John's at the Garden.
Anthony Mason Jr. had a career-high 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting for the Red Storm (7-10, 1-5), who have lost four straight and six of seven. The junior forward's previous best was 22 twice, the last time against Seton Hall last season.
"As upperclassmen we have to help keep the young guys' heads up and tell them what it is," Mason said. "There are no excuses. We have to tough it out."
The Red Storm roster has eight freshmen on it.
"I chose the path we are on. I chose to bring in eight freshmen. I chose to do that for our program and build a foundation," fourth-year coach Norm Roberts said. "We have to take some lumps sometimes. We are playing against not good, great teams. We just have to battle through it."
St. John's scored the first four points of the second half to get within 38-31 but the Panthers went on a 9-0 run and the rout was on as the Red Storm never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Pittsburgh's biggest lead was 77-50.
St. John's had not shot above 40 percent from the field in any of its last five losses and the Red Storm shattered that mark in the first half, going 12-for-23 (52.2 percent). But the Panthers managed to shoot 48.3 percent themselves (14-for-29) in taking the 38-27 lead.
The second half was more like it has been for the two teams this season.
The Panthers, who came into the game fourth in the conference from the field at 46.9 percent, shot 61.5 percent in the second half (16-for-26).
"It was just one of those days that we were hitting shots," Dixon said. "Our execution was better and we did a good job of moving the ball."
The Red Storm, who were 14th in the 16-team league at 42.5 percent, were 12-for-28 from the field in the second half (42.9 percent).
"Pittsburgh is a very opportunistic team and they shot the ball very well," Roberts said. "It is a grinding game. It is a grinding time for these young guys. They are trying. They are trying hard."
A 3-pointer by Young gave the Panthers a 21-10 lead midway through the first half. Pitt's biggest lead of the half was 33-20 with 3:21 left when Brown dunked an alley-oop pass from Benjamin.
Mason scored the last five points of a 7-0 run that brought the Red Storm within 33-27 but Young dunked on a drive and Benjamin hit a 3 that gave Pittsburgh a 38-27 halftime lead.
Mason had 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first half.