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Pitt hopes players with N.Y.-N.J. roots help win Big East

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Pitt forward Dante Taylor (11) blocks the shot of DePaul guard Worrel Clahar (0) as Derrell Robertson Jr. (10) is blocked out during the first half Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP)

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Monday, March 11, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
 

Tray Woodall remembers going to Madison Square Garden as a student at St. Anthony High School to see Pitt play in the Big East Tournament.

Woodall and fellow Panthers recruit Ashton Gibbs, his future backcourt mate, watched the Panthers lose to Georgetown in the 2007 final and returned to see them beat the Hoyas for the Big East Tournament title in '08.

“That excitement was ridiculous,” Woodall said, “and I want to share that with my team, also.”

No. 17 Pitt (24-7) earned a double bye and will play at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals against either Syracuse or the winner of Tuesday's Seton Hall-South Florida game.

One thing these Panthers have in common with their Big East Tournament title-winning predecessors is a roster with a New York-New Jersey flavor.

Woodall, a fifth-year senior guard from Brooklyn, is one of four Pitt players with New York-New Jersey ties: Senior center Dante Taylor is from Greenburgh, N.Y.; junior forward J.J. Moore is from Brentwood, N.Y.; and junior swingman Lamar Patterson, a Lancaster native, played his senior year at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.

“It's big. We like to play in front of our family. We have a lot of guys who are from the area,” said Woodall, a third-team All-Big East selection. “We just want to come out and play to the best of our ability, and most of the time, we do that.”

The Panthers believe that can play a part in making a run to the school's third Big East Tournament title, especially with this being Pitt's last appearance before joining the ACC.

Pitt's previous conference champions had a similar flavor. The 2003 team featured guards Brandin Knight (East Orange, N.J.) and Carl Krauser (Bronx) and forward Mark McCarroll (Queens), while the '08 team was led by guards Levance Fields (Brooklyn), Ronald Ramon (Bronx) and Keith Benjamin (Mt. Vernon) and forward Tyrell Biggs (Nanuet, N.Y.).

“We think about it, but at the same time, we have to just go out there and handle business,” Woodall said. “We don't really think about the old teams that have done it. We're happy for them, but we want to go out there and make sure we handle our business.”

The Panthers are 22-13 at Madison Square Garden under coach Jamie Dixon but have won only one Big East Tournament game since their '08 title. Not only does Dixon have familiarity with playing at the Garden but also a fondness for seeing his family and friends there.

“For me, personally, it's always been a place where my family gets together: My parents, my sisters, my friends from high school, friends from college and all my aunts and uncles in the area. It's almost like a family reunion for us,” Dixon said, noting that it will different at the ACC Tournament. “I don't have a lot of family in Greensboro.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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