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Underdog Providence shocks No. 1 Pitt

| Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One and done.

One day after reaching No. 1 for the second time in school history, Pitt gave one of its worst efforts in recent memory.

The Panthers looked like a bubble team rather than a hopeful No. 1 seed in an 81-73 loss Tuesday night at Providence.

In front of a raucous Senior Night crowd at Dunkin' Donuts Center, Pitt trailed the entire game and never got closer than five points in the second half after a disastrous opening 20 minutes.

"I didn't recognize us," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I told our guys that."

The loss snaps Pitt's seven-game winning streak and drops the Panthers (25-3, 12-3) into fourth place in the Big East — 1.5 games ahead of Villanova, which holds the tiebreaker edge.

Pitt also sees its hopes for a first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — a seemingly sure-thing 24 hours ago — damaged.

Providence (17-11, 9-7), which had dropped five of its past seven games, gains a signature victory on its resume, as the Friars try to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 under first-year coach Keno Davis.

Pitt trailed by as many as 20 points early in the second half, before rallying to within seven points, 73-66, on Sam Young's 3-pointer with 2:24 to play.

A DeJuan Blair layup made it 75-70 with 50 seconds to play, but Providence went 6 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 49 seconds to seal the win.

"It's a tough loss," Blair said. "We're going to have to bounce back, or we're not going to reach our goals."

Pitt becomes the latest No. 1 team to fail to hold its lofty status. The Panthers join North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Connecticut as top-ranked teams who have lost — all in the past eight weeks.

The students stormed the court after the final horn, as Providence, which had lost to Pitt eight consecutive times, earned only its second victory over a No. 1 team in 12 tries and its first in nearly 33 years.

Blair, the reigning Big East Player of the Week, led Pitt with 17 points and eight rebounds, but he turned the ball over five times. Sam Young added 16 points and eight rebounds — and four turnovers. Ashton Gibbs (15 points) and Tyrell Biggs (10) also scored in double-figures.

Pitt had 18 turnovers and only 12 assists, while struggling against Providence's zone.

The Panthers trailed, 15-4, less than five minutes into the game in one of the sloppiest displays in Dixon's six seasons. Pitt turned the ball over eight times in the first nine minutes. No one was immune, as six different Pitt players committed turnovers during that stretch.

"I think our zone is a little bit different than most of the things they see," said Providence senior guard Weyinmi Efejuku, who scored a team-high 16 points to lead five Friars in double figures. "It's not really a zone. Everyone thinks it's a matchup. We like to let people think what they want to think."

Whether it was Brad Wanamaker blowing a wide-open breakaway layup, Pitt's starting backcourt of Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon going a combined 4 for 14 from the field or Blair picking up two fouls in a 14-second span in the second half, the Panthers were never in sync.

"There is no one else to blame," Jamie Dixon said.

Pitt trailed, 6-2, less than two minutes into the game, forcing Dixon to take a timeout. Three minutes later, Pitt trailed, 15-4.

Pitt trailed, 44-26, at halftime — its largest deficit at any point this season — and, 52-33, with 16:23 to play. But the Panthers went on a 9-0 run to pull to within 52-42 on Brad Wanamaker's layup with 12 minutes left.

Blair picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 14-second span and sat for three minutes. Providence managed only one field goal in the final 6:20, but Pitt wasn't able to pull off the comeback.

"I don't know what happened in the first half," Blair said. "The first half, we just played terrible. We dug ourselves a hole, and we couldn't dig ourselves out."

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