City Game not necessary

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As has been learned from the folklore of the earliest Native American naturalists, autumn does not fully end until Pitt beats Duquesne by double figures.

So welcome then to winter, the frosty season that perpetually follows events such as Wednesday night's metronomic Pitt victory, this one typically desultory, the Panthers' 11th in a row against their Uptown "rival" and a further solidification that if they play this thing annually for another 20 years, Jamie Dixon still might never lose to Duquesne.

A nice crowd of 15,880 showed up at the Consol Energy Center (yes, they were very nice), not so much to see if Duquesne could beat a ranked team on a neutral court for the first time since that Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town spring of 1969, but because fans of The City Game are more of a co-mingled congregation than a convergence of hostile factions.

"It's good to see all my friends and family come," said Duquesne guard T.J. McConnell, "but I don't look at it as a bigger game than the others. I play every game the same.

The fact is there's no enduring reason for this affair other than it seems like a nice thing for Pittsburgh's basketball community. Pitt certainly isn't buttressing its non-conference schedule by including Duquesne, and Duquesne, even though it has everything to gain and nothing to lose (other than another game) by playing a Big East powerhouse, doesn't lose a minute of sleep over whether it will ever beat Pitt again.

So after 80 meetings stretching back to the Great Depression, the game itself has settled into very respectful little social event. Those blood-on-the-hardwood days of a generation gone by have given way to an annual reunion in which the only elbows are inadvertent.

How Pitt's Tray Woodall managed to get an apparent face injury, an apparent groin injury and an apparent leg injury in 33 relatively dispassionate minutes was still something of a mystery late last night.

"A kicked ball hit him in the face," Dixon reported, "then he had a leg injury of some kind near the end. We'll know more about that tomorrow."

In between, Duquesne's Mike Talley appeared to deliver a knee to Woodall's groin trying to get off a driving layup, but that too was more standard basketball hazard than old-fashioned malice, and nothing that would indicate that these were two teams or two schools or two parts of Pittsburgh that simply didn't like each other.

The biggest crowd in the series' lopsided history watched in a kind of bemused quiet as Pitt erected an 11-point halftime lead. Because no one expected much of anything else, the decibel level probably never approached that of a decent-sized bingo hall.

Some portion of the crowd was getting its first look at Pitt center Khem Birch, the highest-rated Panthers recruit since Brian Shorter in 1987. Birch chose Pitt in part because, according to the Panthers' media guide, Dixon's program "can help him get to the next level."

This does not mean that Birch is hoping Dixon will move practice to the 20th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, so don't expect Birch to be a fixture in Oakland for four years. That said, Dixon limited him to 13 minutes and one shot last night because Dante Taylor, Pitt's other 6-foot-9 McDonald's All-American, was working on a double-double while shooting 100 percent (6 for 6 from the field, 3 for 3 from the line). Taylor's game might have been the only significant development of the night, as the junior from Greenburgh, N.Y. has spent most of his Pitt career playing like he'd rather be doing something else.

This was one of those rare instances when Duquesne came into the Pitt game with a winning record. At 4-2, the Dukes had taken down Louisiana-Lafayette, Akron, U. of District of Columbia, and had even beaten Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers must have stunk in that one.

The Dukes hung around for a good portion of the second half, even slicing Pitt's lead to four when Mamadou Datt hit a jumper in the paint to make it 50-46 at the 12:45 mark, but Ron Everhart's team is looking at a long brutal winter in the rebounding department. This has something to do with the fact that 60 percent of the lineup is 6-2 or shorter, and the roster is thick with callow frontcourt people.

The Dukes had one offensive rebound at the half and got outboarded, 39-15, in the game.

"They're the smallest team we've played against," said Pitt senior Nasir Robinson, "but they played hard."

McConnell's version of the rebounding disadvantage was more pointed, without, perhaps, intending to be.

"We could have rebounded a little better," he said, "but we came up a little short."

Yeah, that's literally the problem.

As with most of these Pitt-Duquesne affairs of recent vintage, no one came away from it particularly displeased.

"That's why we play it," said Dixon, noting the robust turnout. "It's great to be continuing the tradition, going back a long time before I was here. It's a great atmosphere, and it's a first class event."

Yes it's all very nice; it's just not terribly necessary, and it's rarely very good.

Gene Collier: .


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