DURHAM, N.C. — Pitt had a chance to silence its doubters and second-guessers.
Winning at No. 24 Duke on Wednesday night would’ve been Pitt’s third this season over a ranked opponent. It would’ve been a signature victory. And for 20 minutes against the Blue Devils, Jeff Capel’s Panthers looked like a good, solid, strong and consistent basketball team. With an 11-point lead at halftime, it seemed like Pitt was about to fully thrust itself into relevance at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And then, the second half happened.
Duke went on its run, and then another, and then another. And the Cameron Crazies got loud and took over the atmosphere. And Kyle Filipowski had his way with Pitt’s interior defense.
Pitt squandered a double-digit advantage and lost to the Blue Devils on Wednesday night, 77-69.
The Panthers (11-6, 4-2 ACC) are still searching for their first win inside Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1979, and Capel is still looking for his first win on the floor he often dominated on as a player.
“I just felt like (Duke) went on a run and we didn’t really capitalize on some of opportunities on the offensive end,” said Pitt’s Jamarius Burton, who led the Panthers with 16 points and six assists. “Whether that was getting to the free throw or getting in the lane… We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Pitt looked like two different teams between the first and second halves. In the opening period, the Panthers shot 56. % from the floor. In the second? Just 28.6%. And Pitt forced Duke (13-4, 4-2 ACC) into 12 turnovers in the first half, and just five in the second.
What really hurt Pitt was its inability to keep Duke off the offensive glass. The Blue Devils corralled 24 of their own misses and flipped those into 19 second-chance points.
“Obviously, (Duke) dominated the glass,” Capel said. “That really was the difference in the game. It’s rare that you see a team shoot 22% from 3 and they win, and they did that because of how they dominated in the second half. I thought (Duke) played really, really hard.”
NO HUGLEY, AGAIN
Pitt once again played without the services of junior forward John Hugley IV. The 6-foot-9 native of Cleveland, Ohio has now missed six straight games and nine overall this season.
Hugley missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury. The team had been vague about his recent absence but said Wednesday night that he didn’t travel to Durham due to a “non-COVID illness.” Previously, Capel had said on Dec. 17 that Hugley’s absence wasn’t “nothing physical, nothing academic, nothing off the court.”
An All-ACC Honorable Mention selection a year ago as one of the conference’s top offensive rebounders, Hugley is averaging 8.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in his limited action this season. His presence could help Pitt this season, but it remains unclear when he’ll return to play.
“(Hugley) is very committed despite the things that he’s battling and going through,” Burton said. “For me, as his teammate and as his brother, I just continue to support him and encourage him to run his own race. Obviously, we miss him. He’s a big piece to what we can do. We still have to encourage him as he continues to take his time to rehab and do what he has to do.”
Fede Federiko filled in again for Hugley, notching four points, four boards and four fouls in 23 minutes. Blake Hinson had 10 points and three rebounds in 31 minutes.
Without Hugley’s inside presence, Pitt was outrebounded 51-28 and was outscored 34-20 in the paint. Filipowski had 28 points and 15 boards for Duke.
“Filipowski is an outstanding player, and he had a monster night tonight,” Capel said. “We couldn’t keep him off the glass. That was an area we were concerned about coming into this game. They’ve been the best offensive rebounding team in this league.”
Of his team’s struggles in the frontcourt, Capel simply said, “We have to work harder.”
COACH K’s TREE
Capel and first-year Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer are two of 10 former Duke players or assistant coaches who are now Division I head coaches. Capel graduated from Duke in 1997, while Scheyer is a member of the Blue Devils’ 2010 class. Capel and Scheyer spent a lot of time together in Durham in practices and meeting rooms, as both were assistants under longtime Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski from 2014 to 2018. Both were on staff when the Blue Devils won the national championship in 2015.
For the final four seasons he was in Durham, Capel was Duke’s associate head coach. When he left for Pitt in 2018, Scheyer took over that role.
To this day, both Coach K proteges have a ton of respect for each other. Capel and Scheyer had a long embrace as they shook hands before the game.
Capel especially has respect for the Crazies. He knows how much the crowd in Cameron can be a factor from his playing days as a Blue Devil.
“Well, I know this building is never out of it. You anticipate a run is coming at some point,” Capel said. “The crowd was in it all game. Terrific crowd. When they got going, (Duke) really fed off of it.”
UP NEXT: YELLOW JACKETS
Pitt’s defeat at Duke on Wednesday was its first contest in a three-game road swing. On Saturday, the Panthers will travel to Atlanta to face a Georgia Tech team that is 1-5 in ACC play. After that, the Panthers wrap up with a stop in Louisville.
The Panthers have lost five of their last six games to the Yellow Jackets and haven’t won in Atlanta at McCamish Pavilion since 2014. It’s another streak that Pitt’s players, coaches and fans would like to see come to an end.
“The focus is just for us to lock-in on the things that we can control and go out there and play hard,” Burton said. “This game was definitely a learning experience for us, and we can take it to Georgia Tech.”