Pittsburgh appears to be right at home in Madison Square Garden yet again.
The Panthers look to continue their strong play there Friday when they face No. 25 Marquette in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.The seventh-seeded Panthers (24-9) have advanced to the tournament's title game in two straight and six of the last seven seasons, winning only in 2003.Pitt leads the conference with an 18-6 record in tournament play over the last seven-plus years, including an 89-79 win over then-No. 18 Marquette in the quarterfinals last year. This season, the Panthers have won all four of their games at MSG, including victories over then-No. 6 Duke and Big East rival St. John's."We always play pretty decent here," Panthers forward Sam Young said. "As I said, this is our home away from home. So I just feed off the energy that the New York guys bring."Young helped Pitt move one step closer to another championship game Thursday, scoring 21 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 76-69 overtime win against No. 13 Louisville, eliminating the Cardinals from tournament play for a third successive season. That performance came after the junior had 21 points and six boards in a 70-64 win over Cincinnati in the opening round.Young had 17 points off the bench to help the Panthers beat Marquette in last season's tournament matchup. He was just as effective as a starter in the only meeting this season, collecting 18 points and five rebounds, but the rest of the starters totaled only 22 points in a 72-54 road loss on Feb. 15.Pitt allowed the Golden Eagles to shoot 49.1 percent in that contest, but the team has a renewed focus on defense, holding its two tournament opponents to 38.1 percent from the field (48-for-126)."We've just got to get ready for (Friday)," said Panthers guard Ronald Ramon, who had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in the quarterfinal victory. "Come out with the same intensity and same mentality about playing defense."Ramon, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., is averaging 13.7 points on 52.2 percent shooting (12-for-23), while adding 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in his last three games at the Garden. He hopes another hometown contest can help him improve on those numbers after he was limited to four points on 1-for-7 shooting in the last meeting with Marquette.The sixth-seeded Golden Eagles are after their first Big East crown since joining the conference for the 2005-06 season.Jerel McNeal, who missed last year's tournament with a broken wrist, helped move them a step closer on Thursday when he scored a career-high 28 points in an 89-79 win over No. 14 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. That performance came one night after the junior guard scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 67-54 opening-round win over Seton Hall."It was one of the hardest times of my life, working all the way up to that point in the season and not getting to play in the most exciting part of the season, which is March Madness," McNeal said. "I had a whole year to think about it and I was real anxious to get back to this point."McNeal had 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting against then-No. 22 Pittsburgh on Feb. 15.Lazar Hayward was held to five points and three rebounds in that contest, but has been outstanding in two tournament games, totaling 30 points and 17 rebounds.The winner of this game will face either ninth-ranked Georgetown or West Virginia in the conference final Saturday.