In the annual battle between Pittsburgh’s two Division I basketball teams, the Panthers feasted.
Despite trailing before the opening tip even occurred the Pitt men’s basketball rolled in the annual city game, defeating the crosstown Duquesne Dukes 96-75 Friday night at the CONSOL Energy Center.
“That’s a great performance for us. That’s a very good team, Duquesne,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “I watched a lot of film of them over the two days we had to get ready for them, and they’re very good.”
Dixon shuffled the lineup following the team’s loss to Purdue on Tuesday, replacing center Alonzo Nelson-Ododa with Rafael Maia.
“In the shootaround this morning, Coach came to me and talked to me and told me to be ready, and that I was going to start.” Maia said. “So I started to get my mindset ready.”
Dixon said that Maia got the start due to his performance in practice.
“At practice yesterday, [Maia] dominated,” Dixon said. “He had 17 rebounds. We figured he earned it. We gave him the start, and he performed.”
Due to a substitution infraction, officials assessed Pitt a technical, as Micah Mason nailed a free throw to give the Dukes a 1-0 lead before the clock even started.
Dixon said he was unsure what Pitt did to merit the penalty.
“You hate to start a game by arguing, but I lost that one,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what happened with that one. It’s a first.”
Maia got Pitt on the scoreboard with an up and under layup, giving Pitt a one point lead.
That kickstarted a 22-3 run by the Panthers, with six of those points coming via Maia.
“We were passing the ball really well,” graduate transfer Sterling Smith said. “We had to get the ball on the inside, and make them defend the inside first.”
That production in the paint for Pitt paved the way for senior point guard James Robinson, who energized the Panthers by converting on four 3-pointers in the first half.
Duquesne narrowed the deficit to as little as 12, but Pitt pulled away later in the half, converting on their final six shots of the half, entering the intermission leading 57-30. The 57 first half points tied the highest mark ever under Jamie Dixon, matching their 2012 output against VMI.
The Panthers shot 67.9 percent from the field in the first half, going 6-9 from beyond the arc and 13-15 from the free throw line. They outrebounded the Dukes 22-10 as well.
“The first half set the tone,” Dixon said.
Pitt continued to cruise in the second half, trading baskets with Duquesne and maintaining their lead.
Chris Jones slammed a dunk in traffic with just under 12 minutes left in the game, jolting the Oakland Zoo into a frenzy.
Duquesne was able to cut the lead down to 18 via a layup by sophomore forward Eric James with 8:22 left in the game, but would never get any closer than that.
Pitt had five players reach double figures. Junior forward Michael Young paced the team, compiling his third double-double of the season, tallying 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a block.
Robinson had 18 points and eight assists, while Smith totalled 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“It’s fun,” Smith said of the pair’s success. “One of us gets the ball, it’s going in, the other one shoots, it’s going in. It’s nice to play with James.”
James was Duquesne’s leading scorer, posting 21 points on the evening. Dukes’ star guard Micah Mason, who only managed 11 points on 4-11 shooting.
“They guarded the hell out of him,” Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry said about Mason’s off night.
The win marked Pitt’s 15th consecutive win over the Dukes in the City Game.
The Panthers return to the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, when they face the Central Arkansas Bears. Tip off is at noon.