On December 1, Pitt Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio was looking for answers, saying that this is the most frustrated she’s been with her team.
Between then and now, something has changed.
“We’ve come a long way,” McConnell-Serio said. “When we were in Las Vegas, we began to see a difference in our team, and we competed. A light bulb kind of went off with what we’re trying to do, how we want to play, the fight that we need to have.”
In the 32nd City Game, the Pitt Panthers women’s basketball team ended a four game losing streak against the Duquesne Dukes, winning 67-57 on Sunday night.
Pitt’s Brianna Kiesel led all scorers with a season-high 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. Marquel Davis added 16 points, all in the second half.
April Robinson had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Dukes and Wumi Agunbiade added 14 points and nine rebounds.
“It was everything we anticipated it being start to finish,” McConnell-Serio said. “Both teams came out with a lot of emotion and there were some offensive struggles. We never stopped defending and our players kept their composure. Once we got going, we made plays. I’m very proud of our team and the effort we showed today.”
Duquesne opened the game by scoring the first six points. This included a physical lay-up by Agunbiade. Pitt would respond and Kiesel scored eight of the first 10 Pitt points in the game to cut the Dukes’ lead to 12-10.
The Dukes struggled from the free-throw line in the first half, going 6 for 12. As a result, the Panthers would take a 17-16 lead with 4:04 to play in the opening 20 minutes.
The lead extended as Duquesne continued to come up empty in its offensive possessions. Chelsea Welch connected on a 3-point shot to extend the lead to four points.
By halftime, the Pitt lead was 26-20. Pitt shot 30.3 percent from the field in the first half, while Duquesne shot at a 25-percent clip.
Kiesel scored 16 points in the first half and as Duquesne coach Dan Burt simply said that she could not be stopped. The Dukes attempted to defend her in different ways and none proved to be successful.
A huge factor in the second half was the play of Pitt’s Marquel Davis. Davis started the season injured and came into the contest averaging 2.9 points per game.
“Since my injury, I knew eventually I had to get back into my game, penetrating to the basket,” Davis said. “Coach [Kathy McConnell] Miller said to me that I needed to get to the basket and we need people to get to the rim. I realized I only took one shot and it was a jumper.
“My mind set going into the second half was to attack and you’ll either have the layup or have one of your teammates open for a shot. I just did that, and for once I just told myself to play your game instead of being hesitant because I sat out the first half of the season.”
With 15:47 to play in the second half, Davis converted a three-point play to stretch the lead to nine. A few minutes later, the lead reached double digits.
Duquesne then responded by going on a 12-4 run, cutting the lead to 44-41 with 5:08 to play.
With the outcome of the game up in the air, Pitt went to the line 31 times in the second half. While only 19 free throws were made, the Panthers found themselves getting many rebounds which resulted in second chances to score, whether it was from the field or the free-throw line.
“That’s something I definitely noticed and that’s very simply toughness, focus and effort,” Burt said. “They had more of that today. We were slow to the ball. We were tentative, we didn’t have great effort to the ball, just completely out-toughed and out-manned.”
Ultimately, time ran out on the Dukes, despite Pitt’s inability to consistently connect from the free throw line in the final minute. Duquesne was able to cut the lead to six with 23 seconds to play, but Asia Logan calmly sank two free throws.
“I’m disappointed with how we played the last 30 minutes of the game and I felt that we were completely outplayed, outcoached at times and I’m very disappointed in the whole day,” Burt said.
Kiesel gave all of the credit to McConnell-Serio for setting the team up for the victory.
“Coach gave us a really good game plan,” Kiesel said. “She set us up in a good defense. Coach beat us twice when she was at Duquesne, and now she came to us and we beat them. This shows that the factor was coach McConnell-Serio. I definitely think this was a big win for us.”
Duquesne will open Atlantic 10 play Wednesday when it hosts St. Bonaventure at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. St. Bonaventure comes in at 11-4 and one of those losses was an 88-39 contest against top ranked UConn.
Pitt opens conference play with its first ever ACC match at 7 p.m. Thursday against 22nd-ranked Florida State. FSU is 12-1 on the season with its only loss coming in overtime to then-No. 3/4 Louisville.
Of note: Agunbiade is now tied for fifth place on Duquesne’s all-time scoring list with Samantha Polino. Kiesel is tied for 16th on the Panthers scoring list with Jania Sims.