If there was concern beforehand that Pitt could look past DePaul with a pivotal game at Louisville looming, it became reality by halftime of Saturday's Big East contest.
Not that it was a bad thing.
The Panthers took a 23-point lead into intermission, their largest halftime lead this season, before cruising to a 93-55 victory over the Blue Demons on Saturday afternoon at Petersen Events Center that set a school record for largest margin of victory in Big East play.
Pitt's previous largest margin of victory in Big East play was 36 points in an 82-46 victory over West Virginia on Feb. 12, 2003.
The Panthers (17-4, 5-3) won their fourth consecutive Big East game and, coupled with Georgetown's 53-51 victory over No. 5 Louisville, moved into sole possession of third place in the conference standings behind Syracuse and Marquette.
Pitt plays at Louisville (16-4, 4-3) on Monday, and the Panthers have the confidence of knowing they beat Georgetown, 73-45, Jan. 8 at Verizon Center.
“We have to get this win. It's a must game for us,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose Cardinals have lost three consecutive games since ascending to the top of the national rankings. “Because four (in a row), now you're on the verge of getting a sub-.500 record in the league, and you don't want to mess with that.”
Pitt knows full well the consequences of messing with sub-.500 play, given its 0-7 start in the Big East last season. That included an 84-81 loss to the Blue Demons. Pitt already has surpassed its regular-season win total from last season and, with the victory over DePaul, has matched its conference victory totals from last season.
Pitt visits DePaul for the season finale March 9.
The Panthers jumped to a 53-30 halftime lead, thanks to 50 percent shooting from the field (20 of 40), including four 3-pointers and 9 of 10 free throws. The bench accounted for 33 first-half points, as Dante Taylor scored eight points and Trey Zeigler and Durand Johnson added seven each.
Zeigler finished with 18 points, his most as a Panther, Lamar Patterson added 15, Steven Adams had 11 points and 14 rebounds and J.J. Moore 10 points, as Pitt shot 49.3 percent (35 of 71) from the field and outrebounded the Blue Demons, 54-29. Every Pitt player contributed at least a point, rebound and an assist.
DePaul (10-9, 1-5) shot 27.3 percent from the field, making only 9-of-33 field-goal attempts, in the first half. The Blue Demons had a 10-9 lead at the 14:36 mark before Pitt used a 9-0 run to take control. The Panthers outscored DePaul, 44-20, the remainder of the half.
Brandon Young led DePaul with 13 points, and Moses Morgan had 11.
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