In an encouraging sign for the young Pitt men’s basketball team, the Panthers accomplished something that last year’s team was unable to do — record a victory over Duquesne, in the annual City Game Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
After turning the ball over a season-high 22 times in their previous game, the Panthers (4-4) buckled down and narrowed that number to just eight. Led by senior forward Ryan Luther’s opening dominance and first-year guard Parker Stewart’s second-half 3-point shooting clinic, Pitt avenged last season’s City Game loss with a 76-64 win over the Dukes (2-3).
“I’m proud of them,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought that was a gutty effort, and we were very happy to get the win.”
Pitt junior guard Jared Wilson-Frame came into the game as the ACC’s fifth-leading 3-point shooter, averaging 2.57 threes per game. He continued his sharpshooting and hit a shot from beyond the arc to give Pitt its first lead of the night, 3-2. The Panthers would not relinquish that lead for the rest of the night.
The Panthers heated up after that, causing three Duquesne turnovers to fuel a 13-3 run and mounting a quick 16-5 lead just eight minutes into the game.
Despite a woeful shooting performance from Duquesne — 2-10 from the field to start the game — the Dukes stayed afloat by hitting free throws, scoring five of their first nine points from the charity stripe. The Panthers, on the other hand, went zero for three on their first-half free throws.
Pitt received a noticeable boost from its youthful bench, with first-years Stewart, Kene Chukwuka and Khameron Davis all scoring one basket to help build a 30-18 Panther lead with five minutes left in the half.
Duquesne mounted a late first-half run to close the deficit to six, but first-year guard Marcus Carr swung the momentum back toward Pitt with a steal and layup. After a 3-pointer by Luther and a dunk by Davis, the Panthers went into halftime with a 37-26 lead.
Pitt’s roster depth was on full display in the first frame, with eight different Panthers scoring at least one basket. Luther led the team and flirted with a first-half double-double, racking up 12 points and seven rebounds. Carr stuffed the stat sheet as well, tallying nine points, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought Luther came out and played like the best player on the court,” Stallings said. “That was really what led us to get some space in between our score and theirs.”
Duquesne came out strong in the second half and found a spark off the bench from first-year forward Nick Kratholm. Kratholm hit his first two 3-pointers to narrow the deficit down to four, and first-year guard Eric Williams Jr. contributed 10 quick second-half points.
Stewart struck back, though, and preserved the lead with three 3-pointers of his own. The Panthers led by just three points, 50-47, with 12 minutes left in the game.
With the momentum shifting back towards the Dukes, Pitt seemed to be in trouble. But the Panthers responded with a 10-3 run led by aggressive drives from Luther, Carr and first-year Shamiel Stevenson.
Pitt cushioned its lead back to nine points with six minutes remaining, and cracked open another double-digit lead after a Stevenson layup with five minutes left.
Trailing 66-55 with just a few minutes remaining, Duquesne started to full-court press—a tactic employed by Pitt’s previous opponent, High Point, which helped force a season-high 22 turnovers for the Panthers.
But this time Pitt was ready, as Stevenson sliced through the defensive pressure and nearly dunked on Duquesne first-year forward Tydus Verhoeven. Stevenson made one of two free throws, and Stewart nailed his fourth 3-pointer of the night on the Panthers’ next trip down the court to give the team a 70-58 lead, all but ensuring a Pitt victory.
“Parker [Stewart] hit some big shots for us in the second half,” Stallings said. “And Shamiel [Stevenson] did a great job rebounding down the stretch.”
When Duquesne began to foul, Carr went to the line and hit both free throws to score the Panthers’ final points. With a 12-point lead, Pitt simply dribbled the clock out. When the final buzzer sounded, the Panthers prevailed over the Dukes, 76-64.
Four players finished with double-digit scoring figures for the Panthers. Luther paced the team with 16 points as well as nine rebounds, while Stewart scored a season-high 14 points — 11 of which came in the second half. Carr contributed 15 points and led the team with five assists, while Stevenson chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds.
“Last City Game, senior year, it was good to go out on top,” Luther said. “Mostly, I was happy to see a lot of young guys stepping up and making plays beyond their years.”
The Panthers return to the Petersen Events Center Tuesday, Dec. 5, for a 7 p.m. game against Mount St. Mary’s.