The final college basketball game at Mellon Arena last year had plenty of excitement. The annual game between Pitt and Duquesne went to double-overtime, included an historic comeback and had some late-game drama.
The first college basketball game across Centre Avenue at Consol Energy Center had none of that. The 79th renewal of the City Game rivalry ended the way most games in the series have for the past three decades -- with Pitt winning in convincing fashion.
The third-ranked Panthers christened the new arena with a 80-66 victory against their crosstown rival, extending their dominance over the Dukes with a 10th consecutive victory. Neither team had won more than nine consecutive games against the other before Wednesday night. The Panthers, who own a 48-31 advantage in the series that dates to 1932, also won nine in a row from 1982-88.
The Dukes' last victory against Pitt came in 2000.
Senior center Gary McGhee was three blocks shy of a triple-double. He had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 7blocks. The seven blocks tied a school record held by several others.
"There's no question he was the difference in the game," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "The kid was great. He was very active and very alert."
McGhee said the Panthers (8-0) wanted to squash any thoughts of a potential upset early on. After a rough start, when the Dukes raced to an early 9-2 lead, McGhee and his teammates took the game over by crashing the boards.
McGhee was so dominant in the first half that he had a double-double with 5 1/2 minutes remaining before halftime. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half. His backup, Dante Taylor, had five points and five rebounds at the intermission.
The Panthers had 33 rebounds by halftime, a number that many teams don't reach in full games. They pulled down 14 offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to 15 second-chance points. They also picked apart the Duquesne defense, shooting to the tune of 48.6 percent. By the time the first half ended they were in complete control, 42-28.
"We knew they were going to come out with energy," McGhee said. "But we didn't want to get into the same situation we were in last year. We wanted to come out strong and set the tone. We came out and did that and we got the victory."
After the Dukes' fast start, McGhee came up with some big plays to turn the tide in Pitt's favor. Three of the first four baskets for the Panthers came from offensive rebounds, all courtesy of McGhee. The third one pulled the Panthers within a point, 9-8.
The Panthers took their first lead of the game when Travon Woodall made a 3-pointer with 13:49 remaining in the half to make it 11-10 and start a 16-5 run that yielded a 24-15 lead a few minutes later.
McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna all converted rebounds for baskets in the run. Another Pitt surge produced the first double-digit lead of the game. Robinson scored two baskets in a 10-2 run that gave the Panthers a 34-19 lead with 3:32 left.
After two Bill Clark 3-pointers cut the lead to 36-26, the Panthers scored six of the final eight points before halftime. Fittingly, Taylor scored the final point of the half on a free throw after outmuscling the Dukes for a rebound with less than a second left on the clock.
"You have to give Pitt credit," Everhart said. "Every time we tried to make a run they held us at bay with their offensive rebounding."
Duquesne (3-2) came into the game averaging 91 points per game, but the Pitt defense stymied the high-scoring Dukes by contesting shots in the lane and limiting their fastbreak opportunities. The Dukes shot just 29 percent in the first half.
After the post payers dominated the first half, Gibbs took charge in the second half, scoring 13 of his 22 points. The Panthers boosted the lead to 18, the biggest margin of the game, when Gibbs made a 3-pointer from the corner with 13:05 left.
Gibbs was 4 for 8 from 3-point range, including three from behind the arc in the second half. "My teammates were doing a good job of finding me," he said.
Clark and Damian Saunders led the Dukes with 20 points. Freshman guard T.J. McConnell had 14, including the first two points in the history of the Consol Energy Center 27 seconds into the game.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.