For the second straight game, the Pitt men’s basketball team gave one of college basketball’s most storied programs all it could handle.
And for the second straight time, the Panthers (12-11 overall, 1-9 ACC) came up short. After an 80-78 loss at No. 12 North Carolina Tuesday night, Pitt lost another back-and-forth battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium to the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils (18-5 overall, 6-4 ACC), 72-64.
Junior guard Grayson Allen buried the Panthers late with a 3-pointer that bounced high off the rim and somehow dropped in, putting Duke up by seven with 51 seconds to go.
Pitt actually held the lead with under nine minutes to go in the game, after Jamel Artis’ floater in the lane gave the team a 43-42 lead. But the Blue Devils took control of the game from that point, using a 18-7 run to take a nine-point lead at the final media timeout at 60-51.
The Panthers’ zone defense, which had limited Duke to just 26 percent from 3-point range through the first 32 minutes, gave up six of nine from deep in the final eight minutes. Allen did most of the damage, making three key shots from beyond the arc while tallying a team-high 21 points — including 18 in the second half.
Pitt would get as close as three points with three minutes to go, but the Panthers couldn’t come up with enough defensive stops at the end to come back.
The Panthers shot 51 percent from the field, but struggled from the 3-point line, going just 2-14 on the game. They also committed 13 costly turnovers in the contest, including multiple shot-clock violations and a five-second inbounds violation.
Pitt’s dynamic duo of senior forwards Artis and Michael Young, who came into the game as the top two scorers in the ACC, combined for 41 of their team’s 64 points. Young finished with a game-high 24 points, while Artis chipped in with 17 of his own, with 12 in the second half.
For Duke, this was the first game for head coach Mike Krzyzewski on the sideline since Jan. 4. The legendary coach had spent the last four weeks recovering from back surgery, while his team went 5-3 in his absence under assistant Jeff Capel III.
Duke got out to a quick 9-4 lead by the first media timeout, thanks to some offensive rebounds and a couple of nice assists by first-year point guard Frank Jackson, who started in place of senior guard Matt Jones.
Pitt then showed some of the same fight that appeared against the Tar Heels but was lacking in last month’s losses to Miami and Louisville. The Panthers used a 14-4 run over the next several minutes to take a five-point lead at 18-13.
Young played particularly well during that stretch, as he scored in a variety of ways. On one sequence, he slipped his defender as he rolled to the basket on a screen for an easy layup, and hit a deep fadeaway two in front of the Duke bench on another.
In the next stretch of minutes though, the Blue Devils took back the momentum after heralded true freshman Harry Giles threw down an alley-oop on lob from Allen. Duke used some stifling defense and a three by Allen to take the lead back at 28-22, but Pitt managed to tie the game at 28 before the half, with Artis, Young and senior guard Chris Jones each contributing a bucket.
Once play resumed in the second half, the teams traded scores for most of the next twelve minutes before the Blue Devils went on their run. The Panthers led in the early going, but they couldn’t convert on junior Cameron Johnson’s several steals for points at the other end. With Pitt having missed an opportunity to build its lead, Duke began to heat up from distance.
Artis and Young countered Allen’s 3-pointers with several tough buckets in the lane, but the last miracle bounce was too much for the Panthers to overcome in the 72-64 loss.
With the loss, Pitt remains in last place in the ACC, and is now guaranteed to finish .500 or worse in conference for the third straight season.
The Panthers will return to action on Wednesday, as they travel to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to take on the second-worst team in the ACC in Boston College. Pitt will try to end its skid against the Eagles (9-14 overall, 2-8 ACC), who have struggled recently as well, having lost six in a row and eight of their last nine.