March 17, 2007

Pitt tops VCU in OT despite blowing big lead

Box score

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Eric Maynor and his Virginia Commonwealth teammates spent all of their energy forcing overtime. Levance Fields and Pittsburgh took over from there.

Fields atoned for two missed free throws at the end of the regulation and Pitt recovered after blowing a 19-point lead, beating upstart VCU 84-79 Saturday in the second round of the West Regional.

Maynor, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Duke in the first round, led a comeback from a 51-32 deficit. Fields made a clutch 3-pointer in overtime and Ronald Ramon scored five points in the extra session.

Third-seeded Pitt (29-7), which has never won more than two games in an NCAA tournament, will make its fourth appearance in school history in the round of 16.

Jesse Pellot-Rosa had 20 points, all in the second half, and B.A. Walker also had 20 for the 11th-seeded Rams (28-7). Maynor finished with 14 points, eight assists and three steals.

Sam Young finished with 15 points to lead Pitt and Aaron Gray had 14 points and eight rebounds. Mike Cook and Young each made a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the triumph.

Pitt dominated the first half behind Gray and took a 15-point lead into the locker room. And even when Gray picked up his third foul early in the second half and had to sit for five minutes, the Rams were unable to mount a charge. When Gray fed Keith Benjamin for an easy basket with 12:11 left, Pitt was up 51-32.

Then Pellot-Rosa found his range and the Rams began to surge behind their stifling press, which helped force 11 second-half turnovers.

With chants of "VCU! VCU!" reverberating through the Rams cheering section, they staged a furious rally as Maynor waved his arms in earnest, urging the fans to keep up the noise.

Pellot-Rosa scored nine points, Maynor scored on a driving layup, and Walker hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second tying the game 67-all with 1:42 left.

Pellot-Rosa's rebound off his own miss gave VCU its only lead of the game, 69-67, with 52 seconds left. But Young tied it with a fast-break layup eight seconds later before Fields missed from the line twice with 2.1 seconds left to force OT.

VCU fans, clad in black and gold, waved a sign that read "In Maynor We Trust" and cheered the Rams throughout. There wasn't much to cheer about at the outset. It quickly became apparent that the Rams, whose toughest defender, 6-foot-7 Wil Fameni, was wearing a facemask because of a broken nose suffered against Duke, were going to have problems with the 7-foot Gray.

Gray set up Cook for a 3 from right wing and drove past Fameni along the baseline for a rousing two-hand dunk, putting Pitt up 9-4 early and bringing the Panthers fans to their feet.

Neither Fameni nor 6-foot-10 senior Calvin Roland could cope with the 270-pound Gray. Roland, inserted to help Fameni on defense after playing just three minutes against Duke, picked up three fouls in the first half.

Pitt scored 22 points in the paint, committed only five turnovers against VCU's pressing defense, and had four blocks and altered several other shots. VCU, which entered the game averaging 40 percent from beyond the arc, was just to 2-for-9 in the period and finished 7-for-23 (30.4 percent).

If not for Jamal Shuler, who made both 3s and scored 10 points in the opening half, the Rams would have been in a much bigger hole. The Panthers outscored VCU 17-7 over the final seven minutes to go into halftime with a 41-26 lead.

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