Pitt's Sheldon Jeter celebrates during a timeout in the second half.
Pitt's Ryan Luther and Duke's Marshall Plumlee get wrapped up as they go for a rebound in the first half at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Michael Young reaches for a rebound over Duke's Derryck Thornton.
Pitt's Michael Young dunks against Duke Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's James Robinson gets a shot up against Duke's Derryck Thornton.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt had to prove itself worthy of an NCAA tournament bid when No. 15 Duke visited Petersen Events Center, and that’s exactly what it did Sunday.
The Panthers played easily their best game of the season, took a big lead early and never looked back as they rolled to an impressive 76-62 destruction of the Blue Devils in front of a packed house on senior day. It was Pitt’s first win against a ranked opponent this season in seven tries and should go a long way toward erasing the hurt of losing a late lead and falling to No. 11 Louisville Wednesday night.
“First off, I’m just so happy for James [Robinson, a four-year starter who played his last home game],” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It doesn’t happen, it is rare, but when you have a senior playing the best basketball of his career in the last four or five games it is a good feeling to have.
“I thought our fans were terrific, there were so many good things and to go down the list and try to pick out who did the best job, it was the whole team. Our preparation was terrific, our response to a devastating loss was important, we responded in such a great way and I’m so proud of our guys.”
“Duke is a good team; we’re a better team and we showed it tonight,” forward Jamel Artis added.
Pitt (20-8, 9-7 ACC) also ensured itself at least a .500 finish in conference play and clinched a 20-win season for the 12th time in Dixon’s 13 seasons.
The Panthers made their first four field goal attempts, rushed to a 10-0 lead and led by as many as 14 points as they made seven of their first nine shots and the Blue Devils (21-8, 10-5) missed six of their first eight. Even when the Blue Devils started to heat up, the Panthers kept them at arm’s length and led, 39-26, with 2:46 left in the half after two Robinson free throws.
But the Panthers went scoreless the rest of the half and Duke pulled within 39-32 with a 6-0 run.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that the Panthers were clearly on a mission and played harder and with a greater sense of urgency than the Blue Devils.
“[Pitt] was terrific, the crowd, the team, everything,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously, the pursuit of NCAA tournament, this was a huge game for them and when a team responds when they need a huge game like that, even though we were playing against them, it is a neat thing to watch.
“We were out of character, we have had a long month where we played our butts off but we did not play our butts off today. But the team we played against did.”
The Panthers made 15 of 30 from the field (50 percent) in the first half and were 4 of 9 from the 3-point line (44.4 percent).
Mike Young opened the second half with back-to-back dunks to push the Panthers lead back to double digits, 43-32, and Sheldon Jeter’s 3-pointer with 15:45 remaining gave the Panthers a 48-33 edge and forced Krzyzewski to call a timeout.
“Every once in a while you have a game where you don’t play well and we didn’t play well today, but give them credit, they made us not play well,” Krzyzewski said. “That Pitt team was terrific and congratulations to James Robinson, what a great representative for this city, this school and himself and his family. He is a superb leader on the court.”
Jamel Artis led four Panthers in double figures with 17 points, while Robinson added 14 points and seven assists.
Pitt outrebounded Duke, 39-20, and held a 16-7 edge on the offensive glass. The Panthers outscored the Blue Devils, 24-8, in the paint
This was the final home game for Pitt’s five seniors — Robinson, Mike Lecak, Sterling Smith, Rafael Maia and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa — and Robinson made his school-record 130th career start.
Late in the game Dixon was able to put Lecak, a walk-on who has developed into a fan favorite, into the game and take Robinson out for one last time at home. He received a standing ovation as he left the court and was embraced by his teammates.
“That was a very special moment for me,” Robinson said. “That was big time for me, really, I don’t even know what to say other than that was special and thank you to everybody that supported me through these four years. This was our last home game but I believe we have a lot of season left to play.”
Grayson Allen led Duke with 22 points and Brandon Ingram added 17.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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