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Pitt pulls away for 74-53 win over Duquesne in the City Game

December 1, 2018
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Pittsburgh's Jared Wilson-Frame (4) shoots over Duquesne's Frankie Hughes (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jeff Capel preached patience the day he took over the head coaching job at Pittsburgh in April, cautioning it would take time for the Panthers to find an identity and find their way back to respectability in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s early — very early — but the first part of Capel’s job may already be done.

The Panthers are intent on making themselves tough to play against. The latest proof came in a 74-53 victory over Duquesne in the City Game on Friday night. Pitt (7-1) held Duquesne to 36 percent (19 of 57) from the field, forced 22 turnovers and rebounded from an emotional road loss at No. 14 Iowa by responding over the final 10 minutes against their crosstown rivals.

The Dukes (4-2) drew within 51-45 on a lay-up by Austin Rotroff with 9:11 to go, but Pitt ripped off the next 15 points to pull away, a run that Capel believes wouldn’t have been possible without hard work on the other end of the floor.

“We’ve been pretty consistent on (defense) and it certainly does help, you know, when you’ve got nights like this where you can’t make a shot,” Capel said. “Defense is something we like to hang our hat on ... we take pride on it.”

A message that stirs echoes of the program’s not-so-distant glory days in the Big East under former head coaches Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon. The road back will certainly be bumpy for a roster that’s almost completely overhauled from the one that went winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.

Still, just 72 hours removed from a draining one-point loss on the road at No. 14 Iowa, the Panthers recovered from an early push by the Dukes by clamping down.

“That’s what we take pride in, is toughness,” said Pitt guard Jared Wilson-Frame, who finished with 12 points. “That results in getting defensive stops, getting rebounds, making the right plays. I think that’s just a testament to our togetherness.”

Trey McGowens led the Panthers with 14 points, Malik Ellison added 13 and Xavier Johnson overcame early foul trouble to finish with 10 points, four rebounds and five assists as the Panthers won for the 17th time in their last 18 meetings with the Dukes (4-2).

Michael Hughes led the Dukes with 20 points and 10 rebounds but Duquesne couldn’t keep up after the Panthers found their footing late. The Dukes made just 5 of 24 3-pointers and starting guards Mike Lewis, Sincere Carey and Eric Williams Jr. combined for just 14 points on 5-of-21 shooting.

“The last 8-10 minutes we weren’t very good,” Dukes coach Keith Dambrot said. “We were right there, we just didn’t make plays.”

The 87th meeting between the schools located just two miles apart had a decidedly new feel. It wasn’t just the sight of Capel on the sideline. Five of the eight Pitt players who saw the floor are in their first year with the program. It’s much the same for the Dukes, who have 11 players in their first season and just one — Lewis — leftover from the team that knocked off the Panthers two years ago, a victory that marked just the Dukes’ fourth win in the series since 1982.

Dambrot stressed coming in that the Dukes can no longer afford to be pushovers to the Panthers in a rivalry that at times seems to be built more on location and habit than legitimate tension.

The Dukes made their first four shots before the game devolved into the typical grind-it-out affair that has become the norm. Pitt slowly recovered to take a 32-29 lead after a half that featured more fouls (22) than made field goals (20).

Duquesne kept it close for the first part of the second half before things went awry.

“You have to be more competitive when you’re getting smacked,” Dambrot said. “Their pressure bothered us. They got in us and we got a little jittery. We made some dumb, unforced ones at crucial times.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Duquesne: The Dukes are on the upswing — they played Notre Dame tight on the road earlier this month — but with so many new faces, it’s going to take time to jell. Another chance at taking down an in-state Power Five conference opponent awaits when Duquesne plays Penn State on Dec. 19.

Pitt: The Panthers are already within one victory of matching last year’s total, one they should surpass relatively easily before ACC play begins in January. Capel appears to have settled on an eight-man rotation that showed maturity by hanging in there against the Dukes after stumbling out of the blocks early.

UP NEXT

Duquesne: Welcomes Marshall next Wednesday.

Pitt: Hosts Niagara on Monday.

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