Sam Young is not the only reason Pitt maintained its dominance against Duquesne in the annual City Game that was played last night at the Palumbo Center. But if not for Young's big shot and a big rebound in the final minutes the Panthers might be staring at their first loss of the season this morning.
Young scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down five rebounds in Pitt's 73-68 victory, but he saved his best for last.
Young's 3-pointer from the corner with 1:46 remaining gave Pitt a four-point lead after the Dukes cut the lead to one. And his rebound after a Tyrell Biggs missed free throw with 21 seconds remaining was the final dagger in the hearts of a game Duquesne squad.
"Someone was going to make a big play for us," senior guard Mike Cook said. "That was just Sam being Sam. Sam has been doing that for the last two years."
Young was not only big in the final minutes, he seemed to be the only Pitt player in the final half of the second half who could make a play. Here's how important Young was to Pitt in the second half:
• The Panthers scored 18 points in the final 10 minutes. Young had eight of them.
• The Dukes cut the lead to one point four times in the second half. On two of those occasions Young was the Pitt player to score the next time down the court.
"Young came up big for them," Dukes coach Ron Everhart said. "He's been through the Big East wars. He's that good."
The No. 12 Panthers (8-0) beat Duquesne (6-2) for the seventh consecutive year. Young was one of four Pitt players who scored in double figures. Cook had 12 points and freshman center DeJuan Blair and junior point guard Levance Fields each had 10 points.
Junior center Shawn James led the Dukes with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. But while James was up to the task, the rest of his teammates could not muster enough to make the comeback complete.
Duquesne was 25 for 65 (38.5 percent) from the field and 2 for 20 from behind the 3-point line. The Dukes opened the game missing their first 13 3-point attempts and trailed by 17 points in the first seven minutes.
Pitt scored the first 14 points and led, 21-4, with 13:30 remaining in the half. Duquesne's pressure defense got the Dukes back into the game. The Dukes forced Pitt into 11 first-half turnovers and outscored the Panthers, 23-11, over the final 10 minutes before the break to make it 36-31 at halftime.
Pitt's offense became stagnant when Blair picked up his second foul and headed to the bench for the rest of the half with 8:42 left. The Dukes made the comeback despite an awful shooting performance. They were 9 for 32 from the field in the first half and 1 for 15 from behind the 3-point arc.
The Dukes got their points at the free-throw line. They made 13 of 14 from the line in the first half while Pitt got to the line just eight times, making six.
Young said the Panthers lost focus after getting out to the early, big lead.
"At the beginning, we attacked them," Young said. "But then we got away from what was motivating us. We lost our motivation because we didn't think it was going to be as good a game."
The Panthers were in foul trouble throughout the game and had to play different combinations that they had not used through the first seven games. At one point, small forward Gilbert Brown had to play power forward because Blair and Biggs were on the bench in foul trouble.
Brown gave Pitt a big lift off the bench, scoring off a steal and then on a free throw to make it 60-52 with 7:11 remaining. It appeared Pitt was finally going to pull away. But the Dukes went on an 8-2 run to make it 62-60 with 2:28 to go after Kieron Achara made a basket underneath.
Ronald Ramon converted 1 of 2 free throws on Pitt's next possession for a 63-60 lead, but James scored with 2:07 remaining to cut the lead to one, 63-62.
The sellout crowd came to its feet. But just as the momentum was swinging in the Dukes' direction, Young coolly took a pass from Fields and made his third 3-pointer of the game.
"I didn't even know how much time was left until after I shot it," Young said. "So there wasn't any pressure."
Achara made a basket at the other end to make it a two-point game with 1:18 left, but Fields drove to the basket and made a floater over James with one minute to go.
Dukes guard Kojo Mensah was called for travelling and Fields made two free throws at the other end to make it 70-64. After a Damian Saunders basket, Biggs was fouled and missed both free throws. But Young elevated over the Dukes' front line and grabbed the rebound that ultimately sealed the hard-fought victory.
"That was a big play," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Sam made big plays all the way through."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published December 6, 2007 5:00 AM