Panthers open defense impressively


NEW YORK (AP) -- Pittsburgh is in tournament mode.

The sixth-ranked Panthers opened defense of their Big East
tournament title with a 74-61 victory over Virginia Tech on
Thursday in the quarterfinals. The win was the 10th in their last
12 conference tournament games, a run that includes three straight
championship game appearances and their first title last season.

"We just prepare for every team," Pittsburgh guard Julius Page
said. "I mean, any team can lose on any night, and we know we can
get knocked off if we come out sluggish."

The top-seeded Panthers (28-3) were never really in danger
against the eighth-seeded Hokies (15-14), holding them off from the
free throw line over the final 9{ minutes.

Jaron Brown scored 20 points for Pittsburgh, which advanced to
Friday's semifinals against fifth-seeded Boston College, a 57-54
winner over fourth-seeded Syracuse.

The game was the last in the Big East for Virginia Tech, which
moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. The Hokies
qualified for the Big East tournament this year for the first time
in their four seasons in the league and beat Rutgers 61-58 in the
opening round.

"We weren't as tough as they were and they made winning
plays," first-year Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "Even
with the loss we have shown that we have redefined a competitive
spirit here."

Pittsburgh's biggest lead was 55-40 on a free throw by Page with
8:31 to play. Virginia Tech got as close as 63-57 on a turnaround
jumper by Zabian Dowdell with 2:27 left, but the Panthers closed
the game with an 11-4 run.

Pittsburgh had just two field goals over the final 9½ minutes --
a reverse layup by Brown with 4:58 to play and an alley-oop dunk by
Mark McCarroll with 25 seconds to go. The Panthers went 16-for-25
from the free-throw line over that span.

"I think our defense picked up as the game went on and I think
we got a little more aggressive and we got some things off our
defense," first-year Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "The
guards really picked it up and got into it."

Carl Krauser had 16 points for the Panthers, while Page added 14
and Chevon Troutman 12.

Bryant Matthews and Jamon Gordon each had 14 points for the
Hokies, who had won four straight, while Dowdell had 13.

Matthews, the league's leading scorer this season with a 22.4
average, had a season-low 10 points against Rutgers because of a
cold. He played only 30 minutes against Pittsburgh, fouling out
with 7:14 to play.

"I felt better," Matthews said. "It was hard to walk away. I
wanted to play again."

The Hokies are eligible for the NIT.

"I hope people see how well we played at the end of the season
in one of the three best conferences in the country," Greenberg

Pittsburgh entered the game fourth in the nation in defense
allowing 56.7 points a game. The Panthers scored 23 points off
Virginia Tech's 17 turnovers.

"We didn't take care of the ball as well as we should have,"
Greenberg said. "We fought hard in the second half but we couldn't
get that run or make the stops we needed."

Pittsburgh finished 23-for-38 from the free-throw line while
Virginia Tech was 7-for-12.

"We've got smart guys. They figure things out," Dixon said.
"They can made adjustments and they did."