Derrick Colter and the rest of the players on Duquesne men’s basketball team thought they had James Robinson all figured out.
Entering Friday night, the Pitt junior had faced the Dukes twice since his arrival in Oakland in the schools’ annual City Game meetings, not to mention numerous summer league encounters the past three years.
“Usually he always passes first,” Colter, also a junior, said. “He’s a pass-first point guard.”
The facilitator became the attacker, scoring a career and game-high 23 points on three 3-pointers and a career-high six-made field goals, as the Panthers beat their Forbes Avenue counterparts 74-62 at Consol Energy Center.
“He was really aggressive. He can shoot threes, and we didn’t know he could shoot threes that way. We thought he was a mid-range shooter,” Colter said. “He changed the whole script on us.”
The victory continued Pitt’s streak of dominance against Duquesne. It’s won the last 14 meetings.
15 of Robinson’s total tally came in the first half.
“It felt good,” Robinson said of his performance. “My teammates did a really good job finding me. Since I was open, I just took the shot.”
An additional early spark for Pitt in the first half was the play of junior big man Joseph Uchebo who played all of his eight minutes before halftime, but scored as many points in that span, a career high, and also grabbed five rebounds.
“They are waiting for today. To play us,” Uchebo said of the Duquesne players. “Everyone was waiting for this game to happen.[So] I have to come out and go hard.”
Pitt entered halftime with a 39-27 cushion, having led for almost all of play up to that point.
A large part of that control came from holding Duquesne to 2-11 shooting from 3-point range in the opening period. The Dukes had averaged 11.75 per game at a .49 percent success rate, second-best in the country, in their first four games.
Pitt’s containment of the attacking threat occurred inside as well, resulting in Duquesne’s lowest offensive output of the season. In its first four games, the team averaged 88.8 points per game, a rate that ranked fourth in the country.
“It felt good to hold people below what had they had been averaging,” Robinson said.
A sluggish second half start by the Panthers, taking almost five minutes to score just three points, gave the Dukes an opening to mount a comeback, and eventually they did.
They began making shots from long distance, converting five of 11 3-point attempts in the second half. The difference shrunk to single digits multiple times the rest of the game as a result.
Pitt sophomore guard Josh Newkirk said, as the game went on, he and his teammates weren’t shaken by their opponent’s success.
“They hit some big shots. We just wanted to stay composed, keep doing what we were doing: stay solid on defense and keep running our offense,” Newkirk said. “We just wanted to be ourselves.”
Pitt would wake up every time Duquesne got close to evening the score, reestablishing its double-digit lead and keeping the opposition at a safe distance.
Duquesne coach Jim Ferry lauded Pitt, officially the home team on Friday, for its resilience.
“When plays needed to be made, Pitt made the plays,” Ferry said. “When they needed to get an offensive rebound, they got it. When they needed to made a big shot, they got it.”
No player exemplified that more than Robinson.
“He needed to make plays for them to win, and he did,” Ferry said
Note: Redshirt senior guard Cameron Wright made his first appearance of the season on Friday, playing a minute and missing both of the shots he took. He broke his left foot in September and had spent the time since recovering.