The most highly anticipated matchup of the season for the No. 18 Pitt Panthers was welcoming the No. 17 Duke Blue Devils to the Petersen Events Center for the first time.
Members of the Oakland Zoo lined up on Sunday afternoon, waiting to get a prime spot for a Monday night game which would set an attendance record of 12,944. In front of an ESPN audience for Big Monday, the atmosphere was electric, as Jamie Dixon’s Panthers squared off against a college hoops legend, Mike Krzyzewski, aka “Coach K,” and his Blue Devils.
Pitt opened up with a 12-5 lead and exchanged punches with Duke in a heavyweight battle. Duke went into the half leading 34-32, and the game looked like it was going to be a barnburner.
Unfortunately, Duke dominated Pitt in the second half, outscoring the Panthers 46-33 and defeating Pitt 80-65. This was something Pitt fans are not accustomed to seeing, since the Panthers had a record of 192-22 at the Pete entering the night.
So what happened?
Pitt (18-3, 6-2 ACC) had been off to fast starts for the majority of the season (except their 17-2 hole against NC State), and Monday night was no different. Pitt out-hustled and out-rebounded Duke, but freshmen All-American Jabari Parker showed no fear, putting up 16 points in the first half. On the other hand, Pitt’s leading scorer senior Lamar Patterson was held to only four points and four turnovers.
Patterson has had some slow starts, but then exploded in the second half on multiple occasions. Feeling comfortable with Pitt only down by two at the half, I expected Patterson to break out.
Patterson did score 10 points in the second half, but only shot 4 for 14 (1 for 5 on 3-pointers) with five turnovers for the game. Rodney Hood was on Patterson like Gorilla Glue, and other Blue Devils helped double team on multiple occasions.
As we had seen in the Cincinnati game earlier this season, Pitt has the capability of falling into scoring droughts. Pitt and Duke continued to battle back and forth, but things took a turn for the worse with around 11 minutes remaining in the game.
From that point (50-49 Duke) to the six-minute mark (64-51 Duke), Pitt scored just two points, whereas Duke put up 14 on a trio of 3-pointers. Being outscored 14-2 down the stretch of a game against Coach K and Duke is a recipe for a loss. Every Duke triple that went down felt like a dagger, as the Oakland Zoo was silenced.
You have to give credit to Duke (17-4, 6-2 ACC), as they locked down on Patterson, forcing turnovers and difficult shots. Pitt had a plus-7 rebounding margin entering the game, yet Duke out-rebounded the Panthers 37-32. Pitt usually has more assists than its opponent, yet Duke had a 19-12 advantage. The turnover margin was plus-3 for Duke, as Pitt committed 10 miscues.
Duke had more firepower as well, with two players putting up at least 20 points on Pitt and its suffocating defense. Freshman Parker, a five-star recruit and No. 2 prospect overall, finished with 21 points, and we all can expect to see him playing in the NBA next season.
I can accept Parker putting up 21, but the dagger came from senior guard Andre Dawkins off the bench. Averaging 8.8 points per game, Dawkins played just 15 minutes against Pitt and put up 20 points on 6 for 7 3-point shooting.
Aside from Pitt’s scoring drought, the Panthers had defensive lapses, leaving too many wide open 3s for Dawkins and other Blue Devils. This was concerning, as Jamie Dixon was interviewed at halftime and stated that they needed to guard the 3-pointer better in the second half. Duke finished the game 13 for 25 (52 percent) from beyond the arc; it is not easy beating a team that knocks down 13 3s.
Pitt could have used Durand Johnson’s 3-pointers in this one. This was also a game where I miss 7-foot center Steven Adams (now with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder), who would have helped with rebounding and a strong defensive presence in the paint.
Coach K told the media that this was the best game Duke had played this season, so Pitt fans should not be too discouraged. Duke was picked to win the ACC this year.
Duke is a pretty good basketball team. This is not a home loss to Long Beach State or Wagner.
I know Pitt will respond, and they will have an immediate test on Sunday at home against Virginia (16-5, 7-1 ACC), which is right outside of the Top 25. We saw Pitt’s response to their 59-54 loss to No. 2 Syracuse with a 76-43 drubbing of Clemson last week.
The season is long for a reason, and Pitt should take the Duke loss as a learning experience and preparation for March Madness.
Brett is a Pitt staff writer at City of Champions. Follow him on Twitter @BJoseph21.