If not for an overwhelming rebounding performance by Pitt against an underwhelming Duquesne front line, the Panthers might have lost the City Game for the first time in 11 years.
The Panthers stumbled and fumbled their way through the annual game against their crosstown rivals, but they hammered the Dukes enough inside to come away with an 80-69 victory before 15,880 at Consol Energy Center.
It was the 11th consecutive victory in the series and the 30th in the past 33 meetings for the Panthers, who won despite 23 turnovers and some shoddy defense that allowed the Dukes to shoot 52 percent from the field.
The Panthers (6-1) overcame their mistakes by outrebounding the Dukes, 39-15. They had 16 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points against the undersized Dukes whose leading rebounder was 6-foot-5 guard B.J. Monteiro.
- 4 Points by which Duquesne trailed with 12:54 to play in the game.
- 11 Consecutive games Pitt has won in the series dating to Duquesne's previous win in 2000.
- 19 Points scored by Duquesne junior guard Sean Johnson to take game scoring honors.
- 24 Margin by which Pitt outrebounded Duquesne (39-15) led by 10 from Dante Taylor.
"We definitely talked about that before the game," junior center Dante Taylor said of wanting to pound the Dukes on the boards. "With us being bigger, more physical and more athletic we wanted to use that during the game."
Taylor was most effective with a career high 15 points and 11 rebounds. He was 6 for 6 from the field and all four of his offensive rebounds were converted into points. Taylor, who missed the past two games because of migraine headaches, came off the bench for the first time this season as freshman Khem Birch started his third consecutive game.
Taylor, Birch and Nasir Robinson cleaned the glass on both ends and left the Dukes to wonder what might have been had they been able to somehow find a way to hold their own on the boards.
"We knew what we were getting into before the game started," said Monteiro, who led the Dukes with five rebounds. "There were certain plays where we didn't box out. They're so tall and so long, you have to hit them before they get in the paint or they'll just tip it in. You can't beat a team like that if you don't outrebound them."
The Dukes hung tough otherwise, pressuring the Panthers into 23 turnovers, the third most since Jamie Dixon took over as head coach in 2003. Point guard Tray Woodall, who left with an undisclosed leg injury late in the game, had six turnovers as did Robinson. Ashton Gibbs and Lamar Patterson each had four apiece.
"Duquesne is hard to play against," Dixon said. "It's the way they play. They're unique. They overplay, they gamble. You have to get layups on the other end and you have to beat them on the boards, and we did that."
Gibbs led Pitt with 18 points. He broke out of a four-game shooting slump, going 7 for 13 from the field. He had missed 44 of his previous 66 shots in the past four games.
"Better shot selection," Dixon said. "Shot selection is always key with him. What he did today is who he is."
Patterson, who missed the previous two games under suspension for a violation of team rules, was the third Pitt player in double figures with 10 points.
After falling behind 10-5 in the early stages, Pitt took control with a 14-2 run that was fueled by the play of the reserves. Taylor got the run started with a put-back after corralling an offensive rebound. After Gibbs made a 3-pointer, freshman John Johnson made another 3-pointer, the first of three for him.
Those baskets were followed by consecutive baskets by reserve forward Talib Zanna, one via an offensive rebound and the other the result of an efficient press break.
"We didn't do a very good job of rebounding out of help situations," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said.
That gave the Panthers the momentum and allowed them to take a 38-27 lead into halftime. They gave the Dukes some life with four turnovers in a little more than three minutes early in the second half.
The Dukes (4-3) capitalized on the miscues and cut the lead to 50-46 with 12:45 remaining after a Mamadou Datt jumper.
"We were hitting on all cylinders," said Dukes sophomore point guard T.J. McConnell, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half.
McConnell and the Dukes could not sustain their surge, however. On Pitt's next possession, Robinson converted a layup and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Panthers grabbed the rebound, which led to a wide open 3-pointer from Gibbs.
All of a sudden it was a nine-point lead again, and the Panthers were able to pull away.
"That killed our momentum," McConnell said.
NOTES -- Pitt played the game without reserve guard Cameron Wright , who was suspended by Dixon for one game for a violation of team rules. It was the second suspension handed down by Dixon in the past six days. The 15,880 in attendance represented the most to witness a game between Pitt and Duquesne. ... Sean Johnson led the Dukes with 19 points. ... Pitt's bench outscored Duquesne's bench, 34-16.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published December 1, 2011 5:00 AM