Kevin Stallings is still getting acclimated to life as head coach of the Pitt men’s basketball team, so he isn’t all that familiar yet with the program’s traditions and rivalries.
But how much does he know about the history of the Panthers’ annual crosstown showdown with Duquesne, also known as the City Game?
“Honestly, not too much,” Stallings said at a press conference Thursday. “I haven’t asked much, and I haven’t been told much.”
Local Panthers, such as Michael Young, though, are fully aware of the matchup’s significance.
“We treat it like it’s the biggest game of the year, because that’s what they’re going to do,” Young said Thursday. “They’re going to come out and treat it like their biggest game of the year, and we don’t want to come out and treat it any less … We want to treat it, if anything, like it means more to us than them.”
Pitt has won 15 straight games against the Dukes dating back to 2000, including a 96-75 blowout last year at PPG Paints Arena, then known as Consol Energy Center. The Panthers’ dominance in the series seems likely to continue against a young Duquesne squad that has stumbled to a 3-5 record against lackluster competition to start this season.
Still, Young says the intensity Duquesne brings to the matchup will force the Panthers to raise their game.
“They play us tough. They play us like it’s a conference game, in my opinion,” Young said.
In crosstown rivalry games, local players on teams such as Duquesne often remember not being recruited by the more established opponent in high school. Players can use the perceived slight as added motivation to win, but as Stallings points out, the Dukes can’t blame him for that this time.
“As the big kid on the block, you know that game is kind of starred in the minds of some of those players,” Stallings said. “The one advantage, at least, that we have this year is none of those kids at Duquesne can say that I didn’t recruit them. Because I didn’t recruit these kids [Pitt’s players] either.”
The matchup might not be as significant for Duquesne’s players as some in year’s past, but Young knows that pride and bragging rights are still on the line.
“Having local kids on our team, we’ve got a lot of pride in it,” Young said. “We don’t want to be the local kids on Pittsburgh that lose to a Duquesne team that doesn’t have as many local guys.”
While Pitt’s seniors might feel added pressure to avoid having the Panthers’ 15-game winning streak snapped under their watch, Young said he’s going to make sure to savor his final matchup in the series.
Although Young admitted he wasn’t the biggest basketball fan growing up — he was more of a football and baseball guy — he did take in one City Game in person, and the memory stuck with him.
“I’ll always remember the intensity of the game and how much pride was taken into the game … I always envisioned myself playing in a game like that,” Young said. “It’s a great game. I love it. It’s going to be my last one, so I’m going to really cherish this one.”