East Regional | Edge: Pitt-Xavier
DAYTON, Ohio -- As his teammates buzzed around him during warmups, Sam Young lost himself in the funky sounds pumping through his headphones.
Young, Pittsburgh's poet in motion whose words are his second love after basketball, let the sweet, sweet music carry him far away.
And deeper into the NCAA tournament.
Young scored 32 points -- one shy of his career-high -- and colossal center DeJuan Blair added another double-double as top-seeded Pittsburgh advanced to the round of 16 for the fifth time in eight years with an 84-76 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday in the East Regional.
Pitt (30-4) will play Xavier in the semifinals in Boston on Thursday.
"It's a tough bracket we're in," said Blair, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, some of them with three defenders hanging on him. "We're just fighting through it."
Oklahoma State threw every punch it had.
Obi Muonelo scored 19 points for the eighth-seeded Cowboys (23-12), a scrappy bunch who gave the Panthers all they could handle before losing their touch in the final minutes. Oklahoma State made 10 3-pointers in a frenetic first half but dropped just two of 12 from long range after halftime as Pitt's defense tightened and took away the open looks that were available earlier.
"We were right there," said OSU guard Byron Eaton, who scored 15 and survived a collision with Blair. "We were never out of it. Pittsburgh's a good team. You can't take nothing from them guys. We had a great game plan, but we just couldn't accomplish what we wanted to do."
The Panthers, who played poorly and barely escaped a first-round upset against No. 16 seed East Tennessee State, showed a champion's poise down the stretch.
The Cowboys tied it 74-74 with 2:42 left on an inside shot by Marshall Moses and the basket had the University of Dayton Arena fans, including some of Pitt's Big East brethren from Louisville, thinking they might see the tournament's first No. 1 seed go down.
Pitt wasn't going anywhere.
Point guard Levance Fields drove for a layup, and after OSU's James Anderson missed a 3-pointer, Fields dropped a 3 from up top to make it 79-74 with 1:27 left. Eaton's two free throws got the Cowboys within 79-76 and it looked like Oklahoma State would get the ball back when Fields missed a long jumper and the ball caromed high in the air.
Blair, though, wanted it more.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder rose up and snatched the offensive rebound -- one of 19 by Pitt -- and banked it off the glass to give Pitt an 81-76 lead with 40 seconds left.
Young added eight rebounds for the Panthers, who outrebounded the Cowboys 41-21.
"Our guys were in there scrapping and clawing and doing everything possible they could to rebound," said Travis Ford, who in his first year at Oklahoma State got the school back in the NCAA field after a three-year absence. "We would go up 10 feet and Blair and Young would go up 11."
After the final horn, there was little celebrating by Panthers, who calmly lined up to shake hands with the Cowboys.
Pitt has unfinished business in this tourney.
Despite amassing 20-win seasons, conference titles and spending part of this season ranked No. 1 for the first time, Pitt is rarely mentioned in the same breath with powers like Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut and UCLA. The Panthers are unlikely to get their due until they get to the Final Four, a place they haven't visited since 1941.
"Right now, it's about getting wins," Fields said.
Terrel Harris scored 17 for Oklahoma State, which shot 63 percent before halftime -- 33 after the break.
The Cowboys did a marvelous job of containing Blair for the first 30 minutes. Using some of the lessons learned while playing Oklahoma star Blake Griffin three times this season, Moses and his teammates collapsed on Pitt's tower of power every time he touched the ball.
Blair didn't score his first field goal until 13:34 was left, and his layup put Pitt ahead 60-53. The bucket energized the Panthers, and Fields dropped a 3-pointer from the top of the key, accentuating his make by keeping his wrist bent as he retreated on defense.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's players lost their shooting touch -- all at once.
Young said he was listening to Go-Go music before the game, the subgenre of funk from Washington, D.C., that started during the 1970s.
It sure made his shot dance nicely.
The 6-6 senior carried Pitt's offensive load in the first half, scoring 23 points, most of them on outside jumpers to keep the Panthers on pace with the sharpshooting Cowboys.
"I wanted to make sure that we was going to get out to an early lead," he said. "I was feeling good. And I was hot."
The Panthers, who have that certain confident swagger on the floor and off, huddled in the hallway outside their locker before tipoff.
"All in!" they hollered before taking the floor.
Forty minutes later, they were.