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Updated: Monday, January 6, 2003 11:46 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(5) Pittsburgh 72, (6) Notre Dame 55
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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PITTSBURGH PANTHERS
Pittsburgh Panthers
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PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Ontario Lett and No. 5 Pittsburgh turned up their defensive intensity and turned down sixth-ranked Notre Dame's bid to become the first team to win at the Pedersen Events Center.

Lett scored a career-high 20 points and Brandin Knight six of his 12 during a decisive run as the Panthers won their 15th straight home contest with a 72-55 triumph over the Fighting Irish in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.

Chevon Troutman and Julius Page added 12 points apiece for Pittsburgh (11-1, 1-0 Big East West), which improved to 9-0 in its new arena and avenged its last home a loss, a defeat to Notre Dame at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse last January 12.

After Matt Carroll nailed a 3-pointer to give Notre Dame (12-2, 0-1 West) a 42-38 edge with 16:16 remaining, the Panthers scored the next 16 points, taking the lead for good at 43-42 on Knight's reverse layup with 13:49 to play. Pittsburgh held Notre Dame scoreless for nearly nine minutes during the decisive burst.

Carroll scored 31 points for Notre Dame, which was tied with Pittsburgh at the half, 30-30. No other player scored more than six points for the Irish, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped.

"It is always a homecoming for me to play at Pitt," Carroll said. "I'm always excited to be back in Pittsburgh. I lived here for 14 years."

Notre Dame had won its last four regular-season matchups with the Panthers.

"It was a great win tonight over a good team," Panthers coach Ben Howland said. "I have a great deal of respect for Notre Dame and their program. They are coached really well. We are just really happy about this win because this gives us momentum for the next couple games on the road."

Star point guard Chris Thomas had a rough conference opener, scoring just five points on 2-of-15 shooting, including 1-of-7 from the arc, as the Irish suffered their worst loss in three seasons under Mike Brey.

"They are a physical team, (and) I played soft tonight," Thomas said. "I have to look back at the game taps from tonight and evaluate myself so that we can pull out a big win on Sunday against Seton Hall."

"I think he wanted to (play) the game too much," Brey said. "This game was hyped for three weeks and got everyone pumped. He takes on a lot of responsibility for the team and he leads it well."

Pittsburgh shot 53 percent (29-of-55) from the field and limited Notre Dame to just 32 percent (20-of-63), including 23 percent (7-of-26) in the second half. The Panthers shot 61 percent (17-of-28) over the final 20 minutes (17-of-28).

"There was a great defensive effort by our entire team," Howland said. "The atmosphere was also great tonight. I thought that the energy created by the crowd was wonderful."

Notre Dame held a 26-18 lead after a jumper by Carroll with 6:54 left in the first half before Lett scored the game's next 10 points in a 2:16 span.

"I was moving around and got open often," Lett said. "I was getting good looks and decided to go for it. They were just layups."

"He is the man," Carroll said. "We did all we could but we could not shut him down. He is a good player."

Troutman grabbed 12 rebounds, Jaron Brown nine, Lett eight and Knight seven for Pittsburgh, which dominated the boards, 51-30, and outscored Notre Dame in the paint, 52-22.

"It is not likely that we are going to win the rebound statistic, but it should never be that lopsided in any game," Brey said. "We need to be more efficient offensively to help the rebound statistics look better."

The Panthers could have won by even more but made just 11-of-25 free throws. Knight missed all six of his attempts from the line.


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