Panthers look for 13th consecutive win against Dukes

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Pitt has dominated the annual City Game with Duquesne in recent years, and not just in terms of the number of games in a row the Panthers have won.

Pitt has won the past 12 games and 22 of the past 24 against the Dukes. Ten of the past 12 wins for the Panthers were by 10 or more points.

That would suggest that the series has not been competitive and thus the “rivalry” part of it has lost some of its luster, but Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon doesn’t see it that way.

Dixon said that every game against Duquesne is a grind and that the City Game will always be one of the most important games each year on the Panthers’ schedule.

“I would still classify this as competitive. We have been good and they have been good,” Dixon said. “It is not easy to do what we have done no matter where people are at. It is a rivalry game, which means everything else goes out the window. It is always big.

“It seems after we win, people downplay it, but there are 15 to 17,000 people at a game in November and that doesn’t happen. Turn on the TVs [and watch other games], it is not happening.”

The two teams will meet for the 82nd time today at Consol Energy Center, and once again it will be the Dukes (2-2) looking to knock off the Panthers (6-0) for an early season signature win.

History and the present, however, suggest this will be another long afternoon for the Dukes, who haven’t topped the Panthers since they pulled off a 71-70 upset in 2000.

Since then it has been all Pitt, and outside of the 2007 game — a 73-68 win — and the 2009 game — a 67-58 win in double overtime — Pitt has won every game by double figures.

That includes last season, when Pitt pounded Duquesne, 66-45, in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Still, Dixon said the Panthers’ current winning streak in the series hasn’t hurt interest in the game based on discussions he has had with fans and alumni of both schools.

Dixon said it is a game people still want to see, and second-year coach Jim Ferry’s rebuilding phase at Duquesne won’t change how competitive the game is because the players on both sides embrace the rivalry and always go after each other.

“I think the game means a lot and I think our players recognize that,” Dixon said. “So we can say what the record is but, they know it is important. I think it has been tremendous that we have moved it to Consol, the crowds have been tremendous.

“People don’t realize [that November basketball is hard to sell tickets for]. Look at the events — Michigan State was playing [last weekend in Brooklyn] and there was nobody at the game.”

Dixon is correct that the City Game has drawn a big crowd even in recent years, but his crowd estimates are a bit higher than the actual attendance.

This is the fourth year in a row the game will be played at Consol Energy Center, and each of the first three games attracted a crowd of 12,500 or more, including the 2011 game that drew the largest crowd in series history at 15,880.

Last year, the game attracted 13,089. In 2010, the first year it was at Consol Energy Center, the crowd was 12,860.

Another big crowd is expected today, though given that it is the holiday weekend and many students are not in town, the number could be a little smaller than the past few years.

Dixon said he expects it to be a competitive game and that if the Panthers want to make it 13 wins in a row, they will need to play better defense than they have to this point in the season.

“We have to get better,” Dixon said. “I know they are good offensively. They have been scoring in high numbers and we are nowhere close to where we need to be [defensively]. We are forcing turnovers, but we are still giving up way too many baskets.

“We need to do a better job.”

Paul Zeise:, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.

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