DURHAM, N.C. — Jeff Capel has been part of countless wins inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Between his time as a point guard for Duke from 1993 to 1997, and then his stint as associate head coach from 2011 and 2018, the Blue Devils won 283 games.
But Tuesday night was different.
Capel was back in one of the most storied arenas in college basketball, but dressed in the visitors’ locker room and sat on the opposite bench. When his team made a good play, the Cameron Crazies did not cheer.
The Pitt Panthers fought hard – and even cut the lead to three points with about four minutes to play – but were ultimately unable to pull off an improbable upset of Capel’s alma mater, No. 9 Duke. Freshman phenom Vernon Carey Jr. piled up 26 points and 13 rebounds as the Blue Devils captured a 79-67 victory.
Leading Pitt (13-8, 4-6 in ACC) was Au’Diese Toney, who totaled 27 points and four rebounds. Justin Champagnie chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds.
Pitt’s usual go-to scorers, Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, combined for just 11 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
Duke (17-3, 7-2 ACC) didn’t own Pitt from start to finish. At the 9:35 mark in the first half, Pitt led Duke 16-15. But then, over the next six minutes or so, Duke broke off a 20-9 run to take a 12-point lead. The Blue Devils would go on to lead by as much as 17 points.
But after Carey connected on a lay-up at the 13:26 mark of the second half, Duke went on a bit of a scoring drought. Pitt buckled down on defense and executed on offense, breaking off a 16-4 run. Over that stretch, Duke missed six shots and turned the ball over three times. For a moment, they looked mortal, like the team that fell to Stephen F. Austin in November. Toney hit a pair of three’s and Champagnie threw down a pair of dunks during the run.
Eventually, Pitt cut the deficit to just three points with 4:26 to play after a Blue Devil was flagged for goaltending.
Duke quickly found its old self again though and went on a speedy 9-0 run to increase the lead back to 12 points with under two minutes to play. That stretch for Duke saw Carey Jr. – the son of a former Miami Dolphins’ offensive tackle – grab two rebounds and make two baskets. The run was punctuated by a three-pointer from Cassius Stanley, who totaled 11 points and seven rebounds on the night.
The loss is Pitt’s second straight and the fourth in its last six games. The defeat also continues an unfortunate streak for Pitt, as they have lost 20 straight road contests to ranked teams. The Panthers’ last victory against an AP Top 25 team was in 2013, when they beat Cincinnati.
Pitt remains one win away from tying their overall victory total from last season. The Panthers could match that mark Sunday, when they host the Miami Hurricanes.