Any hopes Duquesne had of upsetting unbeaten Pitt Saturday in the City Game slowly ebbed away with every whiff, clank and brick from the free-throw line.
The Dukes stayed close most of the game and even led, 44-41, early in the second half, but they connected on just 18 of 35 free-throw shots and ultimately fell well short of the Panthers in an 84-67 final.
"When they're stopping us and we're stopping them but the score's not changing because we're not taking advantage of free throws, it's crippling," second-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. "I thought it kind of sucked the wind out of us, and guys started pressing a little bit.
"We can't come out and miss 17 free throws and beat a team like Pitt right now."
Duquesne (2-3), a team that was shooting 71 percent from the free-throw line coming into the game, shot just 51 percent against the Panthers (7-0). The game plan played to that end, Ferry said, with the Dukes implementing an aggressive approach on offense to get to the line.
Ferry's team plays with the stated goal of making more free throws than the opponent attempts. The Dukes fell short of that target, making 18 free throws while the Panthers attempted 21.
"No way we can allow a team to take twice as many free throws as we did," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We have to do a better job in that category -- a much better job."
Senior forward Ovie Soko, Duquesne's leading scorer with 17 points, used his strength to "force the issue" with Pitt's big men in the paint, but he hit just 11 of 20 free throws.
"It's just focus," Soko said. "We shoot free throws every day in practice. When you're playing against a team as good as Pitt, you can't leave that many free throws on the line. You really have to make them pay."
It wasn't just a second-half issue, either. The Dukes were 7 of 14 from the line in the first half (50 percent) and 11 of 21 in the second half (52.4 percent).
Soko and sophomore forward Jeremiah Jones contended that Duquesne should have held a one- or two-point lead at halftime. Instead, Pitt led, 39-35.
Despite the eventual lopsided margin of victory -- Pitt's 13th consecutive win in the rivalry game -- both sides noted a more competitive game.
"No question they've gotten better," Dixon said of Duquesne. "They played us hard. It'll be interesting to see how they grow together."
"I definitely think the gap is closing," Jones said, "and we're going to keep pushing until we beat those guys."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.