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March 15, 2007
BUFFALO, N.Y. - No first-round exit this time for Pittsburgh.
The Panthers, ousted in the first round seven times in 18 previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, used their long-range marksmanship instead of their considerable brawn, hitting 10 of 20 3-pointers, and beat Wright State 79-58 on Thursday night.
Ronald Ramon hit four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Sam Young had 13 to lead the Panthers, who led the entire game. Pittsburgh (28-7), the third seed in the West Regional, will meet 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (28-6) in the second round on Saturday. VCU upset Duke 79-77 just moments before the Panthers and Raiders took the floor at HSBC Arena.
Pittsburgh built 13-point leads three times in the first half against Wright State (23-10), hitting seven of 12 3-pointers and forging a 43-30 at the break. And when the Panthers began the second half with an 11-3 spurt, the Raiders couldn't recover.
Seven-foot center Aaron Gray, coming off a 1-of-13 performance for three points against Georgetown in the Big East title game, had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Levon Kendall had 10 points, and Antonio Graves eight for Pitt.
Wright State's DaShaun Wood, the Horizon League player of the year who entered the game averaging just under 20 points, finished with 13 points, six assists and four steals. Freshman Vaughn Duggins had 12 points and Scottie Wilson added 11.
Pittsburgh beat both Marquette and Louisville in last week's Big East tournament before suffering a humbling 65-42 loss to Georgetown in the title game. It was Pitt's lowest point total of the season and its most lopsided loss in seven years.
The Panthers recovered nicely against 14th-seeded Wright State, which was fresh from a 60-55 victory over Butler in the Horizon League championship game. The Raiders had won 11 of their previous 12 games, including two over Butler, the fifth seed in the Midwest.
The Raiders' only previous trip to the NCAA tournament in their 20 years in Division I came in 1993, when they were pounded 97-54 by Indiana in the first round after capturing the Mid-Continent Conference tournament title. And they started tentatively against Pitt, seemingly overwhelmed by the moment, missed their first four shots, committed a turnover and fell way behind.
The Panthers stormed to a 13-0 lead as Kendall, Mike Cook and Graves each hit wide-open 3-pointers in the first 94 seconds.
But with their band playing loudly and more than 400 fans cheering them on, the Raiders finally got untracked, and it was a freshman who provided the spark. After missing two straight shots, Todd Brown hit a reverse layup off a missed 3 by Wood, then hit two mid-range jumpers.
And after Keith Benjamin followed his own miss to give Pitt a 21-10 lead at 12:03, Wright State reeled off a 12-1 run to tie it. Wilson started the spurt with a long 3 from left wing, William Graham hit a curling hook off the glass, and Wood finished it with a 3 from right wing to make it 22-all at 8:32.
Pitt finally stopped the slide after Graham stole the ball and set up Duggins for a wide-open layup.
That tied the game again, 25-all, and the Panthers again began striking consistently from long range to take control.
Young, who led Pitt with 12 points in the half, swished a 3 from right wing, Ramon followed with another 3 from left wing, and Graves rattled in a 3 from the right corner to put Pitt ahead 35-27.
Young's fast-break layup with 1:51 remaining in the period completed a 15-2 spurt and Ramon followed with a 3 from the top of the key to give Pitt its 13-point halftime edge.
Gray's three-point play gave Pitt its biggest lead, 68-45, with 8 minutes left.