NEW YORK – In the immortal words of Mars Blackmon, “It’s gotta be the shoes.”

How else do you explain a 6-foot-7 small forward out-bounding and out-boarding a 7-foot-2 center? DeJuan Blair, Pitt’s freshman glass cleaner extraordinaire, went up, over and around senior Roy Hibbert all night, collecting 10 rebounds to Hibbert’s six and simultaneously defying the laws of physics and post-season basketball. Lost in the swirl of post game revelry, Blair had no explanation for his Rodmanesque performance as even he could not identify the make and model of the kicks that had propelled him to greatness.

“I don’t even know what kind of shoes they is,” said Blair, beaming.

The explaining fell to top-seeded Georgetown, who had just been flat-out whooped by the hungrier Panthers on the boards.

“They just played like they wanted to win,” said Jessie Sapp of the Panthers, who played their fourth game in four days Saturday night. “They did a lot of hustle plays. They just played hard.”

They out-muscled the Hoyas and out-scrapped them, but most of all, they just out-worked them. They wiped the glass clean for a 41-29 rebounding advantage and expunged the memory of last season’s a 65-42 loss in the Big East title game.

“I’ve always felt we were capable of beating anybody we play, and I’m sure our players feel the same way,” said Head Coach Jamie Dixon, whose team was playing for the Big East title for the third straight year. “When we got all our guys back into it and do the things we do, we have just been more physical, more aggressive.”

Not only was it the first time a top-seeded Georgetown team had ever lost in the Big East Tourney, but it more than likely cost the Hoyas a chance at a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. A Tennessee stumble against Arkansas earlier in the day had opened up a potential top spot, and all Georgetown had to do was squeak past the Panthers. Listening to the Georgetown contingent following their first loss in eight games, one got the impression they fully expected to leave Manhattan wearing the Big East Crown for second consecutive year.

“They hurt us on the boards,” said a weary John Thompson III, who had either run out of cough drops or been crying before taking the post game podium. “Who, what, when, where, why I don’t know. It just happens. It’s just one of those days. That’s hard to say because it doesn’t feel too good right now.”

Things were bad at halftime when the Panthers held a 20-11 rebounding edge and a three-point margin on the scoreboard. Blair and Keith Benjamin both had more boards than any Hoya, and Georgetown had grabbed only two offensive rebounds.

Bad got worse seven minutes into the second half when DaJuan Summers picked up his fourth foul on a hacking call. Summers, who was the Hoyas’ top rebounder up to that point, was forced to the bench. A few seconds later, Sam Young went airborne for a thunderous put-back dunk.

Worse went to awful when Hibbert committed two fouls in a three second span, hacking Levance Fields, then flailing at Blair after the robust forward flew past Hibbert and collected the carom off Fields’ miss.

Then came an apocalyptic possession with a little over seven minutes remaining. As so often happened for Pitt Saturday night, Young missed the back end of a one-and-one opportunity. Blair yanked down another board, landed and went up strong. Summers’ elbow caught the side of Blair’s head just as the shot fell through the net. Summers was done for the game and Blair swished his one free throw, completing a crucial three-point play, and capturing perfectly the essence of this upset victory.

It would have been worse had the Panthers been able to hit their free throws. Pitt barely managed 50 percent from the charity stripe, including a woeful 3-of-8 performance from tournament MVP Young. Things got so bad from the charity stripe that 78-year old Dick Groat, the former basketball star and 1960 National League MVP shortstop who was calling the game for Pittsburgh radio, continually stamped his feet in frustration, causing the entire press section to shake and quake.

The Hoyas have the rebounding in them. Hibbert’s wingspan makes Gumby look like Danny Devito. Patrick Ewing Jr. can grab boards with the best of them, and Sapp may be the best rebounding guard in the league.

“If you’re looking for a weakness in Georgetown’s game, there isn’t one,” Dixon said. “They’re very good. They’re very experienced. They’re very well coached. They are one of the best programs, one of the best teams, in the country.”

The bitterness of leaving the Big Apple disappointed might be the key to sweet victories in the weeks to come.

“No matter what, we just have to bounce back,” Hibbert said.

Seconds later, coach echoed player.

“We have to grow, we have to be better,” Thompson said. “You don’t want to ruin the third part of the year because you are feeling sorry for yourself tonight. We have to move on.”

That begins Sunday, when the selection committee decides the Hoyas’ fate and the path from Hilltop to mountaintop is laid out before them.

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