Oklahoma State came out firing.
They drained three after three after three, shooting 63 percent from the field in the first half.
The Cowboys hit 10 of 16 threes in the first half as Oklahoma State put up an astounding 49 points, which is the highest first-half total yielded by the Panthers this season.
Oklahoma State held DeJuan Blair to one point and three rebounds in the first half. The entire Pitt team, excluding Sam Young, was held to only 26 points in the first half, and 52 points for the game.
The Cowboys were perfect from the free-throw line, and only committed eight turnovers on the day. Oklahoma State had five players score in double-figures, with four of them scoring 15 points or more.
Everything points to a dominating Cowboys win.
Not so fast.
The Panthers would not be denied what is seemingly turning into their destiny.
Pitt overpowered the Cowboys to reach a familiar place, the Sweet 16, for the fifth time in eight years.
The Panthers’ resident poet, Sam Young, registered 32 points, eight rebounds and did not commit a personal foul on what will go down as one of the best individual performances of the tournament.
Pitt is known for their tough and physical style, but it was Young who resembled a Shakespearean Sonnet in leading the Panthers to victory.
Young was 12-20 from the field, 4-10 from beyond the arc, in leading the No.1 seeded Panthers to an 84-76 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday afternoon.
For every three that the Cowboys registered in the first half, Young had an answer. He scored 23 points in the first half to keep the Panthers from being run out of the building.
Blair struggled early in recording yet another double-double, 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Levance Fields was the only other Panther in double-figures with 10 points and nine assists.
Blair came on strong at the end, pulling in offensive rebounds and getting to the free-throw line, as Pitt out-rebounded Oklahoma State 39-21.
Young had a smooth stroke for most of the afternoon, showing why he will likely be an NBA pick in next season’s draft.
Oklahoma State used a strategy similar to the one they used three times against Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. The Cowboys collapsed on Blair, who didn’t score his first field goal until 13:34 of the second half, and frustrated him for most of the game.
The sharp-shooting Cowboys went cold after halftime. They missed 10 from three-point land, and shot well under 40 percent from the field in the second half.
The mental collapse started in the closing seconds of the first half.
Fields went to the line to shoot a one-and-one. His first attempt clanked around the rim and fell to the floor. Everyone, except for Fields, stood still thinking it was a two-shot foul.
Fields gathered up the ball and called a time-out. He then hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 49 with two seconds left in the half.
Pitt came out strong, and Oklahoma State fell flat. The Panthers showed the poise of a champion as they held off a late rally by the Cowboys, who tied the game at 74, with 2:41 remaining in regulation.
Fatigue certainly set in for the Cowboys, who used a six-man rotation. Oklahoma State had five of those six players record over 31 minutes of playing time.
The Panthers, on the other hand, used their deep bench to their advantage. Pitt had eight players record over 16 minutes of playing time, with only their three-headed monster of Fields, Blair and Young recording over 30 minutes of play.
That deep bench may be what catapults Pitt to Detroit.
Xavier, the region’s No.4 seed, awaits the Panthers in the round of 16. The Musketeers defeated a feisty Wisconsin team 60-49.
For Pitt to finally break their Sweet 16 curse they will need Blair to continue banging the boards, Fields to continue finding the open man, and Young to continue being poetry in motion.
Congratulations go out to Jaime Dixon who set an NCAA record for the best six-year start by a coach in Division I history. Dixon recorded career-win 162, as his father was watching from behind the bench.
Game note: Despite the huge scare when Blair and Eaton collided with 8:41 left in the first half, both players returned to finish the game strong. It was great to see that neither player appeared seriously injured.
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