The Pitt Panthers basketball coined the phrase ‘Save the best for last’ as they used their final home game at the Petersen Events Center to produce their best game of the 2015-16 college basketball season as they welcomed the #15 Duke Blue Devils and promptly sent them home after upsetting them 76-62, their first victory over a ranked team and their strongest win in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“They were terrific.” Duke HC Mike Krzyzewski said “All their kids were locked in… They were superb. We were out of character. We think Pitt is an outstanding team… They did their thing. It’s not like it was a surprise, we couldn’t stop it.”
Many experts may feel like this Duke team was totally out of character this season, but it matters not. Pitt needed a win vs. a ranked team and it turned out to be the team who had put a whipping on Pitt ever since they joined the ACC. In front of sold-out crowd at the Pete, the Panthers looked like Rock Stars, something that the Blue Devils are used to.
“We did it today with defense and rebounding.” Pitt HC Jaime Dixon said as Pitt not only out-rebounded Duke 39-20, but they never trailed Duke once in this game. This was truly their most complete game of the season.
It was also a day in which the Panthers honored their Seniors as it was the last home game for Gs James Robinson and Mike Lecak. Both received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd and received a framed jersey. It would be Robinson’s 130th career start, the most ever in school history.
“Today was icing on the cake.” said Robinson as he posted 14 points and 7 assists in 36 minutes during his final game at the Pete, which included 2 huge 3-pointers.
Kryzewski on James Robinson: “What a great representative to this program and this city, everything.”
Like the Louisville game, Pitt got off to a very strong start, punching the Blue Devils in the mouth before they realized what happened. Baskets by Young, Artis and Maia helped propel Pitt to an early 9-0 lead.
After Artis added another point on a free throw, Duke scored its first points on a 3-pointer by F Brandon Ingram and after G Chris Jones added 2 more points, Duke added another 3-pointer courtesy of G Grayson Allen. But Pitt would keep Duke from getting closer as Artis and Robinson scored to extend their lead to 16-6 with over 13 minutes to play.
Then Robinson hit a 3-pointer of his own to extend Pitt’s lead to 19-8 and then F Brandon Johnson came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and Pitt had a 22-8 lead with over 12 minutes to play. G Luke Kennard would add 3 more for Duke and after F Ryan Luther scored for Pitt, Ingram and Kennard would hit more 3-pointers for Duke, closing Pitt’s lead to 24-17.
But Young and Jones would add more points for Pitt as they had a commanding 29-17 lead with over 8 minutes to play. With over 5 minutes to play, Pitt led 33-23 before F Sheldon Jeter joined the scoring with a jumper and a dunk, extending their lead to 37-23. But then Ingram would hit a 3-pointer and after Robinson would add 2 free throws, Ingram would add 2 free throws of his own and then Pitt began to make the mental mistakes that has been costly to them.
Two straight turnovers by Pitt caused Duke to get back in the game as they G Derryck Thornton and Allen scored to close Pitt’s lead to 39-30 as the first half expired.
In the second half, Young started the scoring again as he added a jumper and dunk to extend Pitt’s lead to 43-31. Jones would extend Pitt’s lead to 45-33 and then Jeter would hit a huge 3-pointer to extend their lead to 48-33 with over 15 minutes to play.
Robinson would add 2 free throws before Allen would hit another 3-pointer for Duke, but then Artis would add 2 more, extending Pitt’s lead to 54-38. The score remained that way until G Matt Jones would add 2 more for Duke but Jeter would then add 2 more for Pitt, extending their lead to 56-40.
Jones would strike again, this time with a 3-pointer, but once again, Pitt would counter with a basket when Robinson would lay it up for 2 more points. But Duke would immediately add 5 more points to close Pitt’s lead to 58-48. Luther would then add 1 more on a free throw and then Jeter would add 2 more giving the Panthers a 61-48 lead.
But then Luther would hit a huge 3-pointer to extend Pitt’s lead to 64-48. Chris Jones would then add 2 more for Pitt to extend their lead with over 7 minutes to play. After a turnover, the Panthers would get the ball back and then Robinson would strike again with another 3-pointer, but then Allen would add a 3-pointer of his own for Duke, closing Pitt’s lead to 69-51.
Artis was then sent to the line and would hit both free throws to extend Pitt’s lead to 71-51, and they certainly weren’t done as Artis would then hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt their largest lead of the game at 74-51 with 5 minutes to play. Allen would then hit 2 free throws on a technical foul and then they would turn the ball over on a travel.
Ingram would then add 2 more for Duke before Luther would add 2 more on a tip-in. Pitt led 76-57 when Fulton would hit another 3-pointer to trim 3 points off Pitt’s lead, but it was all for naught as Pitt would kill the clock in route to the 76-62 victory.
For the Panthers (20-7, 9-7 ACC) Artis led the way with 17 points, G Chris Jones would earn a career-high 8 rebounds and added 9 points. Pitt F Mike Young added 10 points and 7 rebounds.
“Duke is a good team, but we’re a better team” Said Artis “When we penetrate in the gaps, we can find the man and make the better play.”
For the Blue Devils (21-7, 10-5 ACC) Allen led all scorers with 22 points which included three 3-pointers, and Ingram also added 17 points on three 3-pointers. As a team, Duke hit 11 3-pointers but they couldn’t put a dent in Pitt’s lead all game.
This win has certainly added life to Pitt’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but time will tell as they still have to finish strong in their final road games vs. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, two teams that the Panthers beat earlier this season. They know better than to lay an egg against either of these teams the second time around. And then they can really plead their case with the ACC Tournament which starts in a couple of weeks in Washington DC.
“We’re playing our best defense right now” Said Dixon “I believe we’ll get better tomorrow, as well.”
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