Pitt outclassed by No. 4 Duke, 84-54, in Krzyzewski’s final ACC road game


Colleen Nguyen | For The Pitt News

Sophomore William Jeffress takes a shot at the Pitt men’s basketball game vs. Duke Tuesday night.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

The largest crowd to grace the Petersen Events Center for a basketball game this season was bolstered by the robust showing of Duke fans that follow their team wherever they go. Visiting fans were loud all night long, and had every reason to be, as their team marked the final ACC road game of their longtime head coach’s illustrious career with a dominating win over Pitt at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night.

No. 4 Duke (26-4 overall, 16-3 ACC) could do no wrong against Pitt (11-19 overall, 6-13 ACC) in a 84-54 win on Tuesday night. They played excellent basketball — individually and as a team — and even where their execution lacked, athleticism and skill covered. The Panther offense was markedly better than it has been this season, but their inability to get stops against the overwhelming talent that they faced neutralized any attempt at a comeback before it had even started.

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel — who played and coached under Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski for more than a decade — and his Panthers hosted the milestone event for their opponent and honored the one of the sport’s best coaches ever pregame.

The lead-up to Tuesday’s game was emotional, according to Capel, who, along with Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke, presented Krzyzewski with a metal figure of a fist that represented the “five fundamental qualities” that he hopes his teams embody to mark his final road trip.

“It’s weird to think that the guy I’ve known as the Duke coach basically my whole life — he’s the only coach I’ve ever known at Duke — that this would be the last time I would be on the floor with him,” Capel said. “It was a little bit surreal, so it was emotional.”

But as soon as the ball went up, Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils proceeded to bury Pitt quickly and effortlessly. They scored 16 of the game’s first 19 points and never looked back.

The Panthers were 21-point underdogs entering the game, but that’s nothing more than a number on a screen until the two teams actually met on the floor. The reality of what that figure represented became apparent as soon as the game started.

Duke scored on its first three possessions, a harbinger of the onslaught to come. It knocked down four of its first five attempts from 3-point distance and hit 11 of 22 attempts for the entire game. The Panthers kept sending doubles at Duke’s stars — first-year forward Paulo Banchero, junior guard Wendell Moore Jr. and first-year forward A.J. Griffin — only to leave other shooters wide open, according to Capel. First-year guard Trevor Keels made five triples.

“I thought as we got into the game, especially in the second half, we were better offensively,” Capel said. “But we were never able to get a grasp on the game defensively.”

An uncontested dunk in transition from Banchero forced Jeff Capel to burn his first timeout 27 seconds before the first media timeout was scheduled to hit with his team trailing 16-3.

Pitt certainly wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, but Duke’s blistering mark from the 3-point distance particularly was also a product of some immaculate shot-making.

“We did have some breakdowns, and when they’re talented like that, they’ll make you pay,” Capel said. “But they made some big time individual, one-on-one plays.”

Duke shot efficiently and moved the ball well and was focused and disciplined defensively. In short, it did everything you’d expect the nation’s No. 4 team to do. But even when the Blue Devils looked human — whether it be because they lost a man defensively, or gave up a live-ball turnover — they covered for it with a perfectly timed block or an acrobatic shot. They were relentless and their success didn’t even seem to affect them, according to Capel.

“They made unbelievable plays and unbelievable shots and never one time did they celebrate today,” Capel said. “It was businesslike and that was really impressive.”

After falling behind 16-3, Pitt outscored the Blue Devils 15-13 and even cut the deficit to as few as nine with 5:25 left to play in the first half. It also put on a spirited effort out of the gates of the second half, playing the Blue Devils near even for the first 10 minutes of the period.

But because the deficit was too large and Duke was simply too good, the game never felt out of hand.

“They’re really good,” Capel said. “If you play someone that’s really good, you can’t get off to a slow start where you’re not making shots and turning the basketball over. … They’re very talented and they seem to be on a mission.”

The Panthers didn’t not necessarily play poorly — they shot fairly well and were intense defensively for most of the game, according to Capel. But they needed their best game of the season to beat the ACC’s best team and didn’t get it.

Sophomore forward John Hugley finished with 19 points — 14 of which came in the second half — to pace Pitt and graduate forward Mouhamadou Gueye grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots in the loss.

The Panthers will get a few days off before they close the regular season on Saturday with a road trip to South Bend, Indiana, where they’ll meet Notre Dame for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff on ESPN News.