Providence stuns No. 1 Pitt
All Providence coach Keno Davis wanted was for his team to be part of the conversation about who will be in the NCAA tournament field.
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They're talking about the Friars now.
Weyinmi Efejuku scored 16 points for Providence, which took a 20-point lead and then turned back one last rally by No. 1 Pittsburgh for an 81-73 victory Tuesday night, the school's second win ever over a top-ranked team.
The victory greatly improves the at-large resume for the Friars (17-11, 9-7), who are in sixth place in the 16-team Big East, a league considered by most as the toughest in the country.
"I think they made a big step to be able to continue their collegiate careers tonight," Davis said of his seniors after their final home game. "We're in a pretty good situation: we're in the top half of the best conference in the country. It puts us in the conversation. I'm sure if we had lost, they wouldn't be talking about us anymore."
The talking started when Pittsburgh star DeJuan Blair fouled out on an illegal screen in the final minute with the Panthers trailing 77-70.
Pittsburgh (25-3, 12-3) returned to the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press poll on Monday, its second time there this season as the Panthers spent two weeks on top in January.
"It was just terrible. We didn't play as us," said Blair, who has fouled out in two of Pitt's three losses. "They deserved (it). We gave them that game."
Sharaud Curry added 15 points for the Friars, while Geoff McDermott had 11 points, six assists and three of Providence's 11 steals.
Blair had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Sam Young had 16 points and eight rebounds for Pitt, which had won seven straight games and beaten Providence eight consecutive times.
Blair was named Big East player of the week after averaging 21 points and 20.5 rebounds in wins over then-No. 1 Connecticut and DePaul last week. He picked up two quick fouls - his third and fourth - midway through the second half, then his fifth with 46 seconds left after Pitt had a chance to make it a four-point game.
"He's a special player," Davis said. "You look and he got 17 points and eight boards and it's a down night."
Providence led by 20 points after scoring the first basket of the second half to complete a 17-1 run. The Panthers cut it to 75-70 on Blair's putback with 51 seconds left. After Brian McKenzie hit two free throws for Providence a fraction of a second later, Pitt brought the ball down and Blair was called for an offensive foul.
The fans in the Dunkin' Donuts Center crowded around the courtside press tables for the final minutes. Twice, the public address announcer begged the fans to stay off the court following the game; twice the crowd responded by laughing.
Sure enough, after the Friars dribbled out the last 20 seconds - it was too far gone for Pitt to try fouling - the fans went over the tables and chairs circling the court and celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history.
"We weren't here to get rolled on," Providence forward Jonathan Kale said. "We knew we had to win one. It happened to be Pitt. They happened to be No. 1."
The Friars are 2-10 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, with their other victory coming in double overtime against Michigan in 1976. They 2-5 against ranked teams this season, having also beaten then-No. 15 Syracuse on Jan. 28.
"We've got high standards, and we didn't live up to them tonight," said Pitt's Jamie Dixon, who coached his 200th game. "That's obvious."
Providence opened with a 15-4 lead and led by 18 at halftime despite making just one of its first eight 3-point attempts. The Panthers cut the deficit to 29-25 with 6:25 left in the half, but Providence scored 17 of the last 18 points before the break.