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Dec. 18, 2002

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By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Ohio State has already played some of the nation’s best teams, including No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Duke. Buckeyes coach Jim O’Brien said No. 4 Pittsburgh is just as good.

Brandin Knight took control early with his quick cuts to the basket and pull-up jumpers and Pitt, in what was supposed to be its first big test of the season, cruised to a 69-49 victory over Ohio State on Wednesday night.

“They are, across the board, as good as Duke and Alabama,” O’Brien said. “They can hurt you in virtually every area of the game.”

Knight, content to be a playmaker in Pitt’s first six games against a decidedly soft schedule, scored a season-high 17 points, had six assists and teamed with teammate Julius Page to shut down Ohio State star Brent Darby.

With the Panthers (7-0) playing a tough, physical defense in a game in which much of the second half was spent at the foul line, Darby was limited to 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting. He was averaging 21 points and recently scored 35 against Duke.

Darby was so off his game and Ohio State was so far behind, O’Brien pulled Darby with eight minutes remaining.

“He was forcing a lot of things and wasn’t getting the open looks he is used to,” Knight said. “We had a good defensive effort, especially against him.”

Page led Pitt with 18 points despite playing with a sprained right ankle that kept him questionable until game time. He hadn’t practiced since an easy victory Saturday over Southeastern Louisiana.

O’Brien said his team seemed unprepared for Pitt’s physical play, something Knight said forces Pitt to curtail practice on a regular basis.

“We get that every day,” he said. “We don’t practice as long as most teams or we would get even more guys hurt.”

Pittsburgh is 7-0 for the first time since 1987-88, the last season it was ranked as high as it is now.

There were questions if Pitt’s easy schedule had prepared it for an upgrade in competition. Knight quickly answered that by taking charge early, a turnaround from earlier games in which he willingly accepted a secondary role.

With Pitt leading 9-8, Knight hit two free throws – he came into the game shooting 30 percent from the line – then made two driving layups to push the lead to 15-8.

Donatas Zavackas and Page later hit 3-pointers as Pitt scored eight straight points during an 18-6 run that ended the first half. Knight helped finish off that run with a free throw and an 18-foot jumper as Pitt took a 35-21 halftime lead.

“He really looked good tonight, controlled the tempo and made some shots,” Pitt coach Ben Howland said of Knight, a third-team All-American last season.

With Darby shut down by Pitt’s defense, the Buckeyes didn’t have the offense to challenge in the second half, never getting any closer than 14 points over the final 10 minutes.

It was a tough night all around for the Buckeyes, and not just because they were pushed around by Pitt. Point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, a former Pittsburgh high school star who turned down Pitt to play for Ohio State, was booed every time he touched the ball and had 8 points.

O’Brien also got into a post-game shouting match with a Pitt fan who somehow gained access to the runway where players and coaches leave the floor. He could be heard screaming at the fan, yelling, “You have a big mouth,” as he entered the interview room.

A Pitt official and Howland later apologized for the incident.

O’Brien apologized for his team’s play, saying, “I’m embarrassed. It’s probably the worst performance by one of my teams since my first season at Ohio State. We have to look ourselves in the mirror because we were never in this game mentally.”

Sean Connolly led cold-shooting Ohio State with 15 points. The Buckeyes shot only 32 percent – 8-of-25 in each half – to Pitt’s 53.7 percent.

Zavackas, who missed Pitt’s last game to attend his grandfather’s funeral in Europe, had 10 points.

Pittsburgh beat Ohio State for the second straight season in a rivalry that was revived last season after a 40-year lapse.