Thursday , Jan , 04 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Big East opener pits Panthers against Orange

Syracuse, NY (Sports Network) – The 10th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers open up
their 25th year of Big East play this evening, as they travel to upstate
New York to battle the Syracuse Orange from the Carrier Dome.

The Panthers opened 2006-07 with 10 straight wins, before suffering back-to-
back losses to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. The team has responded with a
pair of victories since, routing both Dayton (84-54) and most recently,
Florida A&M (77-51).

The Orange have dropped just three games this season and also bring their own
two-game win streak into this contest. The team was last on the court on
December 30th, where it posted an 82-70 win over St. Bonaventure.

The Orange hold a significant edge in the all-time series (61-33), however,
Pittsburgh has won three of the last four meetings and two of the last three
at the Carrier Dome.

The Panthers are getting it done at both ends of the court this season. The
team is shooting a healthy .504 from the floor, resulting in 77.1 ppg.
Defensively, Pitt is holding foes under 40 percent shooting (.395) and 63.5
ppg, while boasting of a +7.0 rebounding margin. It all starts with All-
American candidate Aaron Gray in the middle. The veteran center is converting
over 62 percent of his shots this season and is one of a few players in the
nation still averaging a double-double at 15.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per
game. Mike Cook and Antonio Graves provide scoring support with 12.1 and 10.7
ppg, respectively. The Panthers scored the first 11 points in the second half
and extended an 11-point lead to 22 in the blink of an eye, leading to the
lopsided win over the Rattlers last time out. Cook led four Panthers in double
figures with 16 points. Graves chipped in 14 points, while Gray, finished with
just five points, but 11 rebounds.

The Orange are a lot like the Panthers in many regards. The team has
definitely had success at the offensive end of the court, averaging nearly 80
points per game (78.9), while giving up nothing defensively. Foes are being
held way under 40 percent shooting on the year (.372) and have been able to
muster just 65.2 ppg. Demetris Nichols has been a force in the frontcourt this
season, shooting .505 from the floor, en route to a hefty 19.8 ppg. Eric
Devendorf has come off the bench lately, but has provided a spark with almost
12 points per game (11.9). Paul Harris (11.3 ppg) is another solid contributor
as a key reserve. Terrence Roberts (9.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Darryl Watkins (8.8
ppg, team-high 44 blocks) give the team two more productive bodies in the
frontcourt, although Roberts is currently nursing a knee injury. In the recent
win over the Bonnies, Watkins was huge, posting a career-high 18 points, nine
rebounds and five blocked shots. Syracuse dominated down low, scoring 42
points in the paint. Nichols led the team with 22 points and 10 rebounds, with
Devendorf and Harris finishing with 17 and 11 points, respectively.