PITTSBURGH, Pa. – After a one-year hiatus, the City Game returned to recent form Friday night.
After losing to Duquesne for the first time in 16 years last year, Pitt reasserted its dominance in the series, winning the 86th meeting between the two schools, 76-64, at PPG Paints Arena.
The game featured a few tense moments, but by and large, the Panthers controlled the tempo and the scoreboard, leading for more than 37 minutes. The Dukes scored the opening basket, their only lead of the game, only to see it disappear 24 seconds later.
The victory improved Pitt (4-4) to 54-32 all-time versus Duquesne, and the Panthers have owned the series at PPG Paints Arena—formerly CONSOL Energy Center—by wining seven of the eight meetings played in the house Sid Crosby built.
The Dukes knocked off Pitt, 64-55, a year ago in Kevin Stallings’ first season with the program. A completely overhauled roster and a 3-4 start to his second season had the Panther fan base grumbling for a change, but re-establishing Pitt’s dominance in the City Game matchup should keep the critics quiet for one night.
“I didn’t want to be the stooge to come in and lose the first two in a row,” Stallings said of the rivalry.
As expected, the Panthers dominated inside, outscoring Duquesne 42-28. Gibsonia native Ryan Luther led Pitt with a team-high 16 points and finished a rebound shy of a double-double. Duquesne (2-3) had no answer for the stretch forward.
Tydus Verhoeven scored inside for the game’s opening basket, but Jared Wilson-Frame put the Panthers in front for good with a three on the ensuing possession. Pitt’s lead would quickly stretch to 11 in the opening eight minutes. Duquesne surged back with six straight points to close the gap to 30-23. Pitt responded by scoring seven of the final nine points to push the lead back to 11 at the half, 37-26.
Duquesne cut the lead to a one-possession game on multiple occasions in the second half, yet Pitt answered each time on the other end.
The Panthers’ Parker Stewart hit four threes en route to scoring a season-high 14 points. His biggest triple came with 12:30 left in the second half and Pitt leading, 47-45. The Dukes had rallied behind the play of Eric Williams Jr., who scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, tying a career high. He also pulled down eight rebounds and swiped three steals.
After the Panthers’ advantage had dwindled to three with 10:51 remaining, Kene Chukwuka’s layup sparked a 6-0 run to widen the gap to nine. The margin grew to 11 on Shamiel Stevenson’s bucket, and the Panthers never looked back.
“Ultimately, my job is to build it so when the game gets close, we can win the game,” Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot said of the loss. “Right now we’ve been in the three games we’ve lost. We’ve been close, but we can’t win the game. Ultimately, we need to come up with a formula to help them win the game.”
Pitt shot 54 percent from the floor, including going 14-25 in the second half. After committing a season-high 22 turnovers in its win over High Point on Tuesday, Pitt coughed it up just eight times against Duquesne’s pressure.
“That’s the third game in a row where we’ve done a good job of executing offense and getting good shots,” Stallings said.
Marcus Carr scored 15 points and Stevenson tallied 13 for the Panthers. The duo combined to shoot 10-13 from the field.
“I think they’re getting more comfortable with some of the things we’re doing” Stallings said of his young team’s recent stretch. “I think that we’ve been able to add a few things that play well to our personnel. It’s hard to have everything you want to do in by the first game.”
Mike Lewis missed his first three shots for the Dukes, but caught fire midway through the first half, scoring eight straight at one point, to finish with 18 points. He had scored just 13 points in the team’s two previous games.
Tarin Smith, who rolled his ankle in the Duquesne’s loss to Cornell on Monday, was largely ineffective in 23 minutes, scoring just two points. The Panthers also bottled up Renee Castro-Caneddy, who had trouble creating separation on dribble-drives and failed to score a point.
“We haven’t hit above 40 percent [shooting] yet, so at some point that tells me we’re not a very good shooting team,” Dambrot said of his team’s shooting. “And if you’re not a very good shooting team, it becomes very difficult to win games. As defensive oriented as I am, the object is still to put the ball in the basket.”
It was the third straight loss for the Dukes after starting the season 2-0. Duquesne will host Maryland Eastern Shore Monday night at 7 p.m.
Pitt has won a season-best three straight games and entertains Mount St. Mary’s Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Luther filled the stat sheet for the Panthers in addition to scoring a team-high 16 points. He hit a pair of threes, pulled in nine rebounds, dished out four assists and collected three steals in 37 minutes. He was unfazed by the length of Duquesne’s Tydus Verhoeven, who entered the game with 14 blocks.
The senior forward made several timely plays for Pitt, and Duquesne used different bodies to slow Luther down, but nothing worked.
“That’s why I took him out there at the end, I wanted him to get an ovation,” Stallings said of his most experienced player. “His play deserved an ovation, and he deserves an ovation for who he is as a human being. I feel real fortunate to coach him.”
Dambrot admitted in his comments he recruited Luther at Akron.
Pitt build an early led behind the strength of its defense. The Panthers held the Dukes without a field goal for more than nine minutes in the first half. Pitt’s guards were particularly great at cutting off Duquesne’s penetrating guards. Smith and Castro-Caneddy have consistently attacked the basket this season for the Dukes, yet found no room to work against Carr, Jared Wilson-Frame, Jonathan Milligan, and Parker Stewart.
“In terms of how we’re playing, I do think the last couple of weeks we’re showing signs in different areas of becoming a better team,” Stallings said. “Our defense, this is three games in a row now, or maybe four games in a row, that we’ve held people under 40 percent from the field. So our defense is starting to click.”
STAYING THE COURSE
In his post game comments, Dambrot was asked about patience and how he has to approach his first year on the Bluff. He stuck to his guns, producing the same response he has given inquiring minds since taking over the program.
“When you’re getting your brains beat in and you’re 59-years old, yeah it’s difficult,” Dambrot said of being patient. “Especially when you’re not the most patient person in the world. What I try to do is make sure my guys are playing the best they can play, as hard as they can play, and make them play together.”
“Ultimately, we have to just stay at it, take our punches, get a little healthier, and do the best we can with an eye on the future.”
The Dukes have five transfers sitting out this season and an incoming recruiting class with four players 6-foot-9 or taller. Better days are ahead for Duquesne. Right now its hard to paint a rosy picture, but Dambrot is thinking long term.
The announced attendance was 10,118, only 1,385 more people than Pitt played in front of during its first four home games combined.