Pitt looks to extend City Game run against Dukes
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Duquesne is going to end Pittsburgh’s long run of dominance in the City Game. Jim Ferry is sure of it.
It’s the whole “when” part of the deal that’s the problem.
“Every year it’s time,” the third-year coach said. “Every time we play a game, I don’t care who we play, we expect to win the game. It’s going to happen. When is it going to happen? When we play better than them.”
That hasn’t happened for more than a decade. The players who take the floor at Consol Energy Center on Friday night for the 83rd meeting between the crosstown rivals were in elementary school the last time the Dukes managed to beat the Panthers.
Coaches change. Conferences change. Faces change. The outcome has not since Duquesne won 71-70 back in 2000. While both sides maintain the annual showdown between programs three miles apart in terms of geography but light years apart in terms of stature remains important, the Dukes (3-1) understand they need a victory to restore some edge to a rivalry that’s dulled considerably.
That’s why Ferry has served as a bit of a historian for a roster dotted with players who might not grasp the local impact of a game that’s often obscured nationally. The Dukes watched a documentary on the history of the two programs on Wednesday learning about a time when the schools were on more equal footing.
Archived footage might not be enough. Duquesne junior forward Jeremiah Jones — who is from Gary, Indiana believes it’s not until you’re on the court with Pitt that the importance emerges.
“Coming into it as a freshman you don’t really understand it,” Jones said. “You listen to the older guys tell you it’s a big game. But you don’t understand how competitive it is, how much it means to the alumni that goes to Duquesne and Pitt. You realize how hard you have to actually play and how much a win means.”
While the Dukes have done little more than pad Pitt’s nonconference win total over the last decade-plus, this time around things are different. The Panthers (4-3) hardly look like their historically snarling selves.
Pitt has lost three of its last five games, including a head-scratching defeat at Hawaii before Thanksgiving and an 81-69 thumping by Indiana on Tuesday in which the Panthers looked decidedly benign.
“We’re not being as tough and communicating as we can on defense,” freshman forward Ryan Luther said. “We have played a pretty tough schedule so far, especially this early in the season, but that’s not an excuse. We know one through 16 on the team that we’re better defensively than that.”
Pitt will need to be if it wants to extend its run another 12 months. The Dukes are lightly tested but explosive. Duquesne is making 52 percent of its 3-pointers and have three different players who have drops six 3s in a game this season.
“They’re a team that’s very dangerous because of how they play and how they shoot the basketball,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
The Panthers may get a boost from senior guard Cam Wright, who missed the first month of the season while recovering from a foot injury. Yet Dixon knows Pitt’s problems won’t be solved by their leading returning scorer. The Panthers are as vulnerable as they’ve been at any point in Dixon’s 12-year tenure. He’s never lost a City Game but cautions his players against taking the outcome for granted.
“I don’t think there can be any chance of us overlooking them,” he said. “We’re coming off a loss. We need to improve. We need to play better. Everybody knows the history of it. There aren’t a lot of these games in college basketball.”