Panthers outmatched by Duke in ACC quarterfinals, lose 96-69


Duke forward Mark Mitchell (25) drives between Pittsburgh forward Blake Hinson (2) and center Federiko Federiko (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, March 9, 2023.

By Richie Smiechowski, Sports Editor

Coming off of a hard fought victory against Georgia Tech, No. 5 seed basketball had a tremendous opportunity against No. 4 seed Duke to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Panthers were outmatched in every aspect of the game, ending their ACC tournament run with a 96-69 defeat against the Blue devils. 

According to Pitt head coach Jeff Capel, through the season one of his team’s hallmarks is effort and coming back from tough scenarios. He said that against Duke, his players didn’t have that same fire they showed all season long. Yet, despite the lopsided loss, Capel didn’t mince his words when asked if Pitt still deserved to make the NCAA tournament.

“Yes,” Capel said. 

The Blue Devils couldn’t miss from the field early, starting the game on a blistering 12-0 run, spearheaded by back-to-back threes from first-year center Kyle Filipowski. To Duke’s horror, Filipowski went down with an apparent injury during their run, but reentered the game midway through the period. 

Graduate student guard Jamarius Burton finally opened the scoring for Pitt over three minutes into the game with a set of free throws. The Blue Devils extended their lead back to twelve, forcing Capel to call his first timeout just six minutes into the half.

Both defenses remained stout for the next two minutes, with Duke first-year center Dereck Lively II imposing his will on the Panthers in the paint. Burton matched the Blue Devils defensive effort, making a steal on the other end and allowing the Panthers to pull within ten. 

Down nine and looking to slowly work their way back into the contest, graduate Nike Sibande gave up a costly turnover with just under eight minutes in the half. First-year forward Dariq Whitehead recovered the loose ball, drove strongly down the floor and finished at the rim, drawing a foul in the process. 

No matter what personnel changes Capel implemented for Pitt, his team had no answer for Duke offensively or defensively in the first half. The Panthers managed to stay with the Blue Devils down the stretch of the half, but couldn’t do enough to cut the deficit. 

“They’re really tall, and they have great length at every position,” Vapel said, “We had some kicks. We had some shots. We missed some early, and then they made everything early, and I think that just knocked us completely back.”

First-year center Guillermo Diaz Graham provided a high point for Pitt, making a dunk with four seconds left in the half but the Panthers went into the locker room without much optimism, down 48-32.

Despite missing significant minutes in the period, Filipowski still paced the Blue Devils’’ offense with 14 points on 5-7 shooting. As a team the Blue Devils were incredibly efficient on offense, shooting 63% from the field and 46.2% from three.

Pitt on the other hand struggled to break down the Blue Devil defense. Graduate student guard Nelly Cummings, junior forward Blake Hinson and graduate student guard Greg Elliot combined for just six points in the half on 2-6 shooting. 

Burton and Diaz Graham were the two biggest bright spots for Pitt early, recording eight and six points respectively, pacing the Panthers. 

Instead of getting the early spark Pitt so desperately needed, the Panthers immediately started the second half with a bad turnover from Hinson followed by a second-chance bucket from the Blue Devils immediately after. Duke finished their run once again at 12-0 to start the period, eventually ended by a jumper from Burton. 

Somehow, the Blue Devils managed to top their run in the first half, eventually extending their lead to 30 with 14:26 left in the game. Over the next few minutes the Blue Devils extended their lead to as many as 36 points.

Throughout the game, Duke simply out-sized and overpowered the Panthers. According to Burton, there’s no way to compete with size other than putting extra effort in. 

“You can’t really teach size, but one thing you can do is compete,” Burton said. “For us in those types of battles, it’s trying to give it all we’ve got despite the size difference and live with the outcome.”

By the 6:10 mark, Duke had taken all of their starters out of the game, and were up by a whopping 34 points. By then, the game was a foregone conclusion, with the score eventually wrapping up in a 96-69 defeat for the Panthers — their second largest margin of defeat this season. 

Sibande led the Panthers in scoring with 17 points with Diaz Graham and Burton also scoring in double figures. The other four Pitt starters beside Burton combined for 15 points. Four of Duke’s five starters ended the game in double digits, with Filipowski scoring a game high 22 points. 

With the loss, Pitt must wait until Sunday to find out their postseason fate. The Panthers are amidst a rough March with a 1-3 record so far this month. 

According to Jamarius Burton, the one thing he and the rest of the team can take away from the loss is that the season isn’t over yet — they still have a legitimate chance at making their mark in the NCAA tournament. 

“We’ve got to flip the switch,” Burton said. “We’ve got more basketball to play, and we’ve still got an opportunity to continue to write our story. And that’s the biggest thing moving forward is just taking what we can learn from this experience and move forward in the right direction.”