7:00 PM ET, January 6, 2004
Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- New coach, new conference season, same old Pitt defense.Julius Page rebounded from one of his worst career games to score 20 points and lead a decisive run that carried 15th-ranked Pittsburgh past Virginia Tech 78-59 Tuesday night, the Big East Conference opener for both teams. Jaron Brown had 21 points while scoring his 1,000th career point, and freshman Chris Taft 17 for the unbeaten Panthers (15-0), who have the best record among Top 25 teams. Pitt stretched the nation's longest home court winning streak to 35 games in winning for the 26th time in 27 outings dating to last season. The game before, Page missed all nine shots and was held to four points in a 70-55 victory Saturday over William and Mary. "To me, that was a year ago," Page said. "I didn't even think about it. As long as we win, that's all that matters ... there are going to be times you don't hit your shots. That was one of the least of my worries." Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, winning his Big East debut, knew Page was too good a shooter to stay in his slump. "That wasn't a worry," Dixon said. "He just does so much for us. He guarded their best player (Bryant Matthews) when he (Matthews) wasn't making many shots and he played 39 minutes for him. We need to give him a rest." Matthews, the Big East's leading scorer with a 24.8 average, probably feels like he needs a day off after scoring 22 points against the conference's stingiest defense. He had to work for nearly every shot he got and had nine of Tech's 26 turnovers as the Hokies (7-5) lost new coach Seth Greenberg's conference debut. The Hokies fell to 0-4 in Big East openers. "Turnovers killed us," Matthews said. Matthews developed leg cramps after trying to catch an alley-oop pass on the game's final play, and sat on the court for several minutes before limping off to the locker room. But he was walking without pain a few minutes later. Virginia Tech stayed closed for most of the first half, mostly because of Matthews and Zabian Dowdell, who had 11 points by halftime, one under his average. But Dowdell drew his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half -- just as Pitt was going on a pivotal 12-2 run that stretched its lead to 47-35 -- and scored only two more points. Page dunked on a fast break started when Brown deflected Matthews' shot, then ended the run by hitting a shot just inside the 3-point line on Pitt's next possession to give the Panthers their first double-digit lead. After that, a Pitt defense that has held 11 of its last 12 opponents to fewer than 60 points limited the Hokies to 14 points during a 15-minute stretch in which the Panthers increased their lead from six points to 22. Brown, Page and Taft were a major presence on nearly Tech possession, knocking away passes or pressuring the Hokies into mistakes. Pitt, with three starters back from the team that won the school's first Big East Tournament title since joining the conference in 1982, has allowed only one opponent -- NAIA power Georgetown College -- to score even 70 points. "You can't turn it over that many times and expect to win in this environment," Greenberg said, referring to the sellout crowd at the Petersen Events Center. "They play at a very, very high level. They swarm on defense, and we're not as strong and tough as we need to be." The Panthers cruised despite playing their fourth consecutive game without leading scorer Carl Krauser, who has a sore groin. He might return Saturday for Pitt's first road game in nearly two months, at Miami. Tuesday's game was Pitt's 14th in a row in Pittsburgh, all but one on its home court. Pitt's 15-0 start is its best since the school's only unbeaten season (21-0) in 1927-28. The Panthers are 29-0 since moving into its new arena last season. Virginia Tech played its first game without freshman guard Jamon Gordon, who will sit out eight to 10 weeks with a right knee injury. He averages 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
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