The foundation of Pitt’s program is and has been great defense and the ability to rebound.
Then No. 17 Duke arrived Monday and blew up that foundation, so much so that Panthers coach Jamie Dixon spent most of his postgame news conference redirecting every question back to pretty much the same answer.
“Obviously, on the defensive end we simply didn’t get it done,” Dixon said after the Panthers got pounded by the Blue Devils, 80-65, in an ACC showdown before a record crowd of 12,944 at Petersen Events Center.
“I didn’t think we handled our defensive assignments well enough. Our breakdowns were often, early and continued throughout the game. They made shots. They made open shots and that falls on us. We didn’t seem to recognize that they can shoot the ball.”
Dixon emphasized several times that the defensive breakdowns were “on my shoulders” and said he will work hard to get it corrected.
But his frustration was clear as he answered question after question — like one about the Blue Devils’ proficiency in scoring on inbounds plays (they scored off six) — by saying he thought the Panthers prepared well for what Duke was going to run but obviously he was wrong.
Whoever was to blame for the defensive breakdowns, the truth is Dixon is correct. They came early, often and continued throughout the game as the Blue Devils put on an impressive display of offensive skill and shooting.
Duke was 28 of 58 from the field (48 percent) which is a good, but even more impressive, the Blue Devils were 13 of 25 from the 3-point line (52 percent).
That barrage was led by Andre Dawkins, who was 6 of 7 from the 3-point range. He hit a few crushing ones on the Blue Devils’ game-deciding 14-2 run, culminating with one with 6:07 to play for a 64-51 lead.
Dawkins hit another 3-pointer with 5:43 left to give Duke a 67-54 lead, and Quinn Cook finished off the Panthers with a drive and basket that put the Blue Devils up by 15 — 72-57 — with just less than four minutes to play.
“We didn’t seem to recognize they can shoot the ball,” Dixon said. “We have to get the message across to them and we simply didn’t. I don’t understand it. If they felt we were going to win this game against that team by playing that kind of defense, well then I haven’t done a good enough job of explaining how important defense is.
“Dawkins was a key in the second half, he was open and that falls upon us. Our zone gave up two 3s and then we adjusted on some things. I didn’t think we played good defense in the first half but we were only down two. You can keep bringing up our shots, our offense, but again, this game was about our defense and rebounding not being good enough.”
The Blue Devils (17-4, 6-2) outrebound the Panthers, 37-32, and turned 11 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points. Duke held the edge in that category, 20-7, and the Blue Devils also outscored Pitt in the paint, 28-16. The Panthers bench was outscored 29-12, though a lot of that was Dawkins, who finished with 20.
Although Dawkins did most of Duke’s damage in the second half, the Blue Devils rode freshman sensation Jabari Parker in the first half when he scored 16 of his game-high 21 points. The Blue Devils had a 34-32 halftime lead.
Dixon was very complimentary of Duke and said the Blue Devils outplayed the Panthers in every category and deserved to win.
“Our issue was defense,” Dixon said. “I thought at Maryland [Saturday] we didn’t play great defense as well. … We have to get it done defensively. Our defense wasn’t good enough to win, our rebounding wasn’t good enough to win.”
This was the first home loss of the season for the Panthers (18-3, 6-2) and snapped their 14-game home winning streak. The Panthers fell to 0-3 in games against teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
A big part of the Blue Devils’ game plan was to stop standout Lamar Patterson. He finished with a team-high 14 points but had to work extremely hard for all of them. That’s mostly due to the defensive effort of Rodney Hood, who harassed and followed Patterson for pretty much the entire game.
“That was a case of two similar, great players battling,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I’m sure both guys are exhausted after the effort they played against each other with.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise First Published January 27, 2014 9:33 PM