After getting embarrassed last season in the City Game, the Pitt Panthers redeemed themselves in impressive fashion as they beat the Duquesne Dukes 76-64 in this year’s version of the City Game in front of 10,118 at PPG Paints Arena.
F Ryan Luther led Pitt with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Three other Panthers also scored in double-figures: G Marcus Carr (15), Parker Stewart (14) and Shamiel Stevenson (13). And Stewart truly had his breakout game with four 3-pointers. As a team, the Panthers had nine three-pointers to the Dukes 7.
I really believe that Pitt took this game for granted last season because they had won 16 straight before that and the fact that the Dukes hadn’t really presented themselves as much of a threat. But the biggest mistake that you can make about an opponent is when you underestimate them, which led to the Panthers loss to the Dukes last season. But Head Coach Kevin Stallings wasn’t going to let his team go out like that a second time and the Panthers hadn’t lost two in a row to the Dukes in 36 years. Tonight they made sure that streak extended to 37.
The Panthers came ready to not just play, but to win. They only trailed once in the entire game and that was 2-0 after the opening tip. After G Jared Wilson-frame hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt a 3-2 lead, they never trailed again. Those were the only points that Wilson-Frame scored the entire game (which is a season-low for him) but the rest of the team made his basket stand.
Stallings had a great rotation going with his players and it paid dividends. They shot 53.6 % from the floor and 40.9 % from 3-point range. This was easily their most impressive shooting performance thus far and as a result, it helped even their record at 4-4 in this young College Basketball season. Carr was also impressive in the fact that he didn’t turn the ball over once after turning it over 5 times Tuesday vs. High Point. As a team, the Panthers only turned it over 8 times, to Duquesne’s 11. In fact, Carr literally stole the ball away from a Dukes player early in the second half that could’ve reminded folks of taking candy from a baby.
On defense, Pitt was out-rebounded 34-33, but their defense was also very impressive as they were more physical and were truly in the face of the Dukes players. Luther had 3 steals and they equaled the Dukes as a team with 5 total steals.
But the Dukes didn’t go down without a fight. In fact, I was impressed with their play as they continued to show that they have some shooters on their team. G Mike Lewis led all scorers with 20 points and also led his team with four 3-pointers, with most of them coming in the second half. G Eric Williams Jr. was also impressive as he finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds. Their fighting allowed the Dukes to get to within 47-45 in the second half, but the Panthers refused to let them get any closer as their consistent scoring allowed them to eventually run away with the victory.
Pitt also reclaimed the City League Championship Trophy after only losing it twice in the last 17 years. That trophy reminds me of the NHL’s Stanley Cup: They only make one, so to keep it in your possession is to keep winning this game. Besides city bragging rights, I really believe that Pitt needed to win this game with this new, young team as they continue to build confidence with each victory.
I also am becoming more and more impressed with Luther as he’s now living up to the expectations that were set on him by Stallings as the team leader and best player. He made backers look easy and were the one who made clutch baskets after the Dukes made baskets of their own.
So now the Panthers will return to the Petersen Events Center to face Mount St. Mary’s Tuesday night, before facing a huge test when they host West Virginia Saturday, Dec 9th as the Backyard Brawl renews its rivalry. Winning those 2 games will determine whether the Panthers have really begun to peak.
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