W. Va. stuns No. 2 Pitt 74-60 in Big East tourney
NEW YORK – Freshman Devin Ebanks scored a career-high 20 points to lead scrappy West Virginia to a 74-60 upset of No. 2 Pittsburgh on Thursday night, knocking out the defending Big East tournament champions and advancing to the semifinals for the second straight season.
West Virginia's Alex Ruoff, right, drives the lane against Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Big East men's tournament Thursday, March 12, 2009, at Madison Square Garden in New York. [Agencies]
Alex Ruoff added 18 points and Da'Sean Butler had 16 for West Virginia (23-10), which might be the hottest team in the nation's deepest conference. The Mountaineers have won four of their last five, their lone loss coming to No. 5 Louisville last weekend.
The tournament's seventh seed got a big assist from DeJuan Blair, the league's co-player of the year, who spent most of the game on the bench for Pittsburgh (27-4). The big man managed only 14 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 1:17 left in the game.
Sam Young scored 15 points to lead the Panthers (27-4), whose chances of securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament took a big hit in what had been a friendly venue.
Pittsburgh had advanced to seven of the last eight tournament championships, winning four games in four days last year to capture the title, and was 23-8 at Madison Square Garden since 2001.
So much for that.
The Mountaineers shot 44.2 percent from the field against one of the league's best defenses, and improved to 17-0 this season when scoring at least 70 points. They advanced to face either No. 3 Connecticut or No. 18 Syracuse on Friday night.
Blair got in trouble early, picking up his second foul 4:01 into the game and taking a seat beside coach Jamie Dixon. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound forward didn't return for the rest of the first half, allowing the Mountaineers to slowly build a lead.
Levance Fields, whose assist-to-turnover ratio is the best in the nation, kept Pittsburgh close by repeatedly finding open teammates under the basket.
The stocky senior guard from Brooklyn hit Young on a soaring alley-oop jam with 7:41 left in the first half, then a couple minutes later made a nifty touch pass to Gilbert Brown cutting to the basket for another easy dunk and a 27-26 lead.
Butler, West Virginia's leading scorer, got in his own foul trouble after picking up his third trying to post up on offense with 1:20 left before halftime, prompting a foot-stomping tantrum from coach Bob Huggins in front of the Mountaineers' bench.
Butler sat to start the second half, but it didn't slow down the West Virginia offense.
Ebanks' highlight slam over the outstretched arm of Jermaine Dixon made it 45-37 just over three minutes in, and a few minutes later Blair picked up a technical foul for shoving Ruoff after a missed shot underneath the Pittsburgh hoop.
Ruoff made both free throws, setting West Virginia off on an 8-0 spurt. By the time the senior guard made a layup with 8:59 to go, the Mountaineers led 61-47 and a sizable contingent dressed in yellow was roaring in approval.
They maintained the lead the rest of the way, coasting ever closer to the school's first conference championship since 1984, when it was a member of the Atlantic 10.