PITTSBURGH -- Moments after finishing off a struggling Seton Hall team, coach Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Panthers started talking about what's next: a much-anticipated matchup with No. 4 Syracuse for first place in the Big East.
In less than 48 hours, here come the Orange.Senior center Gary McGhee matched a career high with 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, sending No. 5 Pittsburgh to a 74-53 victory over the Pirates on Saturday night.
• Pitt won big in its tune-up for a Monday showdown with No. 4 Syracuse, improving to 12-0 at home this season.
• The Panthers are 50-1 in their past 51 home games.
• Pitt has started 5-0 in Big East play for the fourth time in school history. All four times have come in the past nine seasons.
• Seton Hall has lost all four of its games against ranked teams this season.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
"Once we got into the locker room, we knew what our next task was," said Brad Wanamaker, who had seven assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers. "And that is Syracuse."Despite missing two-thirds of its shots through the first 15 minutes, the Panthers (17-1, 5-0 Big East) cruised to a double-digit lead and maintained control the rest of the way. Playing before 9,236 at the Petersen Events Center, they won their seventh consecutive game and 19th in a row at home.The crowd was distracted, too. The biggest cheers of the night came during routine dribbles or breaks in the action thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-24 playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens across town at Heinz Field. Many fans spent the basketball game watching football on TV."It was a different day, no doubt about it," Dixon said. "We have one on Monday that everybody has been talking about. Obviously, there'll be a lot of hype."It was the fourth loss in five games for Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4), which has dropped six of eight overall.Pitt matched its best start in Big East play, achieved three previous times in its 29-year conference history. The Panthers also tied the sixth-best start in the program's 103 years."Big game against Syracuse," said McGhee, who had his fifth double-double this season and the eighth of his career. "Getting this game over with, now it's looking forward to Monday."In a sloppy first half, the teams combined to miss 40 of 63 field goal attempts. The Panthers missed their first five shots and 11 of 14 while falling behind 7-6. Then the Pirates went even colder than Pitt, failing on five consecutive attempts while going 4:45 without a score.Pitt ran off eight unanswered points in a 23-7 spurt that put the Panthers ahead to stay, 29-14. McGhee polished off that run with six of his 10 first-half points, nearly equaling his average of 6.9 per game.Ashton Gibbs, Pitt's top scorer at 16.8 points per game, scored only his third basket of the game with about 7:30 left. Along with J.J. Moore's 3-pointer it extended the Panthers' advantage to 63-40. They grabbed their biggest lead on Talib Zanna's basket with a little more than a minute left at 74-49.The Panthers shot close to 50 percent in the second half and finished at 41.7 overall. Gibbs, who went 3 for 13 from the floor, had eight points and Wanamaker nine."We took care of business, especially in the rebounding and on defense," Dixon said. "Obviously, we had a pretty big lead to start. We closed the door pretty early on that one."Seton Hall big man Herb Pope, from nearby Aliquippa, was the game's top scorer with 15 points. He added 10 rebounds.The 6-foot-11 McGhee got help inside from Zanna and 6-9 Dante Taylor, who combined for 17 points and nine rebounds."They're big boys," Pope said.Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell returned from a broken wrist to average 23.8 points in his first four games this season, but he shot 3 for 13 and scored just nine points Saturday.In addition to defense that limited the Pirates to 41.2 percent shooting, Pitt dominated inside. The Panthers outrebounded Seton Hall 51-27.Pirates coach Kevin Willard, a Pitt graduate who played three seasons (1995-97) for the Panthers under his father, then-coach Ralph Willard, can hardly wait to see what comes next."You know, I think that's going to be a heck of a battle," Willard said, referencing the Orange's 61-56 victory at Seton Hall last Saturday. "I thought Syracuse was one of the most unselfish teams in the country -- until tonight. I'm looking forward to watching TV Monday night."