Blair boosts lethargic Pitt to easy win over Toledo

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair, facing a difficult decision, didn't want to disappoint his family or his teammates. He was needed to serve as a pallbearer for a funeral, yet his team played a game at nearly the same time.

Blair finally made the only choice he felt he could make: Try to do both, and hope his sorrow and disappointment didn't affect his play. And they didn't.

Sam Young had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Mike Cook added 14 points and Blair made a series of game-altering plays once he entered the game, leading slow-starting Pittsburgh to a 78-52 victory over Toledo on Saturday.

The Panthers (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) began taking control when Blair came off the bench to lead an extended run that began late in the first half with a couple of dunks, a blocked shot and several rebounds that started fast breaks.

"I was just coming straight from the funeral today and I was late," said Blair, who attended military rites for great grandfather Eugene Nelson, a Korean War veteran, shortly before gametime. "I couldn't even warm up with the rest of the team. I just tried not to think about it and just play, so I just played for him. It was difficult to play, but the coaches and the team and the fans made me feel comfortable."

Pitt won its fourth in a row by at least a 26-point margin despite falling behind the slumping Rockets by 9-2, 12-4 and 17-10. Toledo couldn't keep up its strong early shooting in which its first 15 points came on 3-pointers, losing its sixth in a row, five on the road.

Tyrone Kent scored 22 points for the Rockets (1-6), who finish a six-game road trip Tuesday at Houston.

"We came out sluggish and they came out ready to play a ranked team and it showed in the first half," Young said. "We weathered the storm and definitely came out in the second half ready to play."

Pitt is 7-0 for the sixth consecutive season, five under coach Jamie Dixon, but its schedule gets tougher with five of its next seven on the road. The Panthers have yet to play a road game.

Blair, a 6-foot-8 inside player from Pittsburgh who was the school's top recruit this season, was not in the starting lineup for the first time because of the funeral, but it hardly mattered.

"DeJuan's maturity showed. He couldn't have handled today any better than he did," Dixon said. "It was good for him to be at the funeral. He was there for his family, he was one of the pallbearers, then he was there for his teammates."

Blair received a loud ovation from the Pitt students when he ran onto the court shortly before tipoff.

"It was good to see everybody get up and clap for me. That made me feel even more confident, so I felt good coming to the game," Blair said. "I got through it."

Blair quickly made a difference, getting five points and five rebounds in 9 minutes of playing time in the first half. Pitt scored seven of the final eight points before the break to take a 34-28 lead.

Blair ended with 11 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists in 23 minutes. Despite being Pitt's tallest starter, he leads the team with 16 steals.

"Their best shot was the missed shot," Toledo coach Stan Joplin said, referring to Blair's putbacks and Pitt's 23-9 edge in offensive rebounds.

Young and Blair combined to keep Pitt's run going in the second half as Toledo -- last season's Mid-American Conference regular season champion -- was held without a field goal for the first 6 1/2 minutes of the half, allowing Pitt to seize a 46-32 lead.

Young, who has jumped his scoring average by 11 points per game this season to 18, scored down low and hit a short-range jumper for Pitt's first two baskets of the half. Blair followed with a tip-in and a rim-bending dunk followup of Levance Fields' miss.

That jam brought by far the biggest reaction of the day from the quieter-than-normal student body that sits along one side of the court.

Pitt quickly added a fast-break basket by Cook and another dunk by Young, off Fields' steal, to make it 46-32. Blair then blocked Jonathan Amos' shot as Pitt began to pull away.

The Panthers had an off shooting day, hitting 43.1 percent, but held Toledo to 34.5 percent (19-of-55), including 26.7 percent (8-of-30) in the second half. Pitt also held a 51-28 rebounding edge.

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