PITTSBURGH (AP) -- New coach, new conference season, same old
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.