A sizable crowd of Pitt fans were left in the stands watching Wednesday’s game, wondering if they would see their team score even half as much as the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils. The Panthers did, but not by much, as Duke crushed Pitt, 87-52.
The Pitt men’s basketball team (8-9 overall, 0-4 ACC) continued to struggle in the absence of senior forward Ryan Luther, who was averaging a double-double before suffering a stress injury on Dec. 9. No Pitt player finished with more than four rebounds, while Duke (14-2 overall, 2-2 ACC) first-year forward Marvin Bagley III controlled the game from the paint all night, finishing with 15 rebounds.
Playing in front of a season-high 9,180 fans — including Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster — the Panthers played one of their worst games in recent memory during Wednesday night’s nationally televised contest against the Blue Devils, shooting just 33 percent from the field and 18 percent from three. The 35-point loss marked Pitt’s worst of the season.
“They were outstanding,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said of Duke. “You just have to give them credit. They’re a gold standard for college basketball programs.”
The Panthers played poorly from the start, allowing first-year Duke guard Gary Trent Jr. to make a three on the opening possession. After a turnover by first year Marcus Carr on Pitt’s next trip down the court, Duke senior guard Grayson Allen found Bagley for a fast break alley-oop.
Both Allen and Bagley are early-season favorites to contend for the Wooden Award, given to the best player in college basketball.
Pitt continued to struggle in the game’s opening minutes, shooting one-for-four from the field while turning the ball over four times. Carr and first-year forward Shamiel Stevenson were the primary offenders, with two quick turnovers each. After four minutes of action, the Panthers already trailed 10-2.
While Pitt’s shooting woes continued, the 6-foot-11-inch Bagley repeatedly imposed his will in the paint. The Panthers struggled to stop Bagley, who racked up 10 points and six rebounds in his first 10 minutes of play.
“Since he’s so long and athletic, that causes a lot of problems in itself,” Pitt sophomore forward Kene Chukwuka said. “You try your best, but there’s only so much you can do.”
Despite being down 30 points, 45-15, with two minutes remaining in the half, Chukwuka momentarily injected the home crowd with a dose of energy after gathering three consecutive offensive rebounds on the same possession, capping it off with a twisting reverse layup.
Chukwuka’s effort on the offensive glass appeared to instill a sense of urgency in his teammates, as the Panthers finished the half on an 11-5 run to make the score 50-24.
At halftime, the box score showed a Pitt team being outplayed in every aspect of the game. The Panthers shot an abysmal 38 percent from the field, including 11 percent from 3-point range, while turning the ball over 10 times. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, shot 59 percent from the field and 47 percent on 3-pointers.
Chukwuka and first-year guard Parker Stewart finished the half as Pitt’s leading scorers, with just five points each. Meanwhile, Bagley led the Blue Devils with 13 points and eight rebounds, followed by first-year guard Trevon Duval with 12 points, going three-for-four from three.
Down 26 points and with a loss all but inevitable, Pitt entered the second half as a team looking primarily to preserve its pride. The Panthers came out playing desperate, going on an 11-6 run in the first five minutes of the half, including eight points from junior guard/forward Jared Wilson-Frame.
On Pitt’s next two possessions, 3-pointers from Chukwuka and Stewart closed the deficit to 17 points, 58-41, and prompted a time-out from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. After that, however, the Panthers resorted back to their sloppy ways. Pitt allowed Duke to go on a 12-2 run, which extended the Duke lead to 70-43 with seven minutes remaining.
Pitt would once again go on a lengthy scoring drought, as the team failed to score a bucket over the next four minutes. During that time, Trent mounted a personal 9-0 scoring run for the Blue Devils, extending the Duke lead to 79-45, before Stewart answered back with a pair of free throws for the Panthers.
A 3-pointer from Wilson-Frame with two minutes left in the game marked the Panthers’ final points. When the final buzzer sounded, the final score read 87-52 — surpassing Pitt’s previous 31-point loss to Penn State as the worst of the season.
Wilson-Frame finished as the Panthers’ leading scorer on the night, leading the team with 17 points, while Stewart chipped in 10 points of his own. For the Blue Devils, Bagley contributed a dominant 16-point, 15-rebound performance.
Despite the blowout loss, Wilson-Frame offered some words of encouragement for his teammates after the game.
“We like each other,” he said. “Actually, we love each other. And if we just keep working hard and doing what we’re doing, we will be good.”
The Panthers will stay home for their next game versus Georgia Tech, which will take place Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Petersen Events Center. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.