Panthers defeat Duquesne, 80-69

By Lauren Kirschman

The Pitt men’s basketball team used a balanced scoring attack to win its eleventh consecutive… The Pitt men’s basketball team used a balanced scoring attack to win its eleventh consecutive City Game on Wednesday night.

Three Panthers reached double figures­, led by Ashton Gibbs with 18 points, as Pitt defeated Duquesne 80-69 at the Consol Energy Center in front of 15,880 people — the largest crowd ever to watch a City Game.

Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson added 15 and 10 points, respectively. Taylor — coming off the bench as freshman Khem Birch started at center — also grabbed 10 rebounds. He finished 6-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line.

Taylor, who sat out Pitt’s last two games because of migraines, said that watching the rest of the front court excel during that time served as motivation to perform well.

“To see those guys come out of the past two games and do good on the inside, I definitely wanted to come back and keep that going,” he said.

Taylor said he started suffering from migraines after getting hit in the head twice against La Salle, but added that the headaches have stopped.

Eight Panthers scored at least eight points in the game, with freshman guard John Johnson providing a spark off the bench. He finished with nine points on 3-3 shooting from the 3-point line.

“John Johnson has a real focus and a real determination that really impresses me,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s going to be a really good player.”

Duquesne stayed within striking distance for most the game, mainly because of its ability to force turnovers. The Dukes scored 27 points off 23 Panther turnovers.

Pitt forward Nasir Robinson said that the Panthers need to focus on making smart decisions and taking care of the ball. Dixon added that Duquesne’s style played a role in forcing the turnovers.

“It’s the way they play,” Dixon said. “We don’t play teams like them. They overplay, they gamble, they go for steals in the backcourt. You have to beat them on the boards.”

The Panthers did just that, dominating Duquesne on the boards with 16 offensive rebounds to the Dukes’ 15 total rebounds. Pitt finished with 39 total rebounds.

“They are so long [and] tall. You got to hit them before they get in the paint or they are just going to jump up and tip it in,” Duquesne guard/forward B.J. Monteiro said. “You can’t beat a team like that if you aren’t rebounding.”

Pitt finished with 18 second-chance points to Duquesne’s five.

“[That was] the most physicality we’ve seen all year, including Arizona,” Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart said.

Every time Duquesne pulled close, the Panthers came up with a big play — something Everhart noticed.

“I thought every time we had them in trouble, they would convert with a big three,” he said.

The Dukes cut Pitt’s 11-point halftime lead to four with 12:47 remaining in the game, but Robinson answered by scoring his first two points and Gibbs quickly followed with a 3-pointer. After Duquesne’s Jerry Jones cut the hoop for a layup, Gibbs hit another 3-pointer to boost Pitt’s lead to 10 points, 58-48.

The Dukes wouldn’t get any closer than seven points for the rest of the game, with the Panthers going ahead by 12, 64-52, with 8:03 left in the game. When Duquesne closed the gap to 64-57 off a Sean Johnson tip-in, Patterson responded with a 3-pointer to boost the lead back to double-digits with 4:08 remaining.

Robinson extended the lead out of a timeout, driving to the hoop for a layup and getting fouled. He hit the ensuing foul shot, giving the Panthers the 70-57 advantage with 3:11 left the game.

“It was slipping away at certain points in the second half … they made plays down the stretch that took it away from us,” Monteiro said.

The Panthers used two scoring runs to pull away from Duquesne in the first half. After the Dukes jumped out to a quick 10-5 lead, Pitt used a 10-0 run — highlighted by 3-pointers from Gibbs and Johnson — to build a 15-10 advantage.

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But Duquesne fought back, closing the score to 19-18 with 8:24 remaining in the half. Pitt responded with a 9-0 run that built a double-digit 28-18 lead. The Dukes didn’t come any closer than eight points for the rest of the half, and a dunk from Dante Taylor as time expired sent the Panthers into the break with a 38-27 lead.

Redshirt freshman guard Cameron Wright was suspended for the game after violating team rules. Pitt Athletics will not specify the violations. The suspension came after Wright scored a career-high 13 points in the Panthers’ win over Robert Morris.

Patterson returned to the floor and started for the Panthers after serving a two-game suspension for the same reason. Tray Woodall left the game late in the second half with a leg injury, but Dixon didn’t know the extent of the injury at the postgame press conference.

Woodall was also hit in the face with a ball earlier in the game, but returned.