Severe case of early nerves Dukes' undoing
From left, Pitt's Ronald Ramon, Mike Cook and Sam Young fight under the basket for a rebound against Duquesne's Bill Clark last night at the Palumbo Center. Pitt won, 73-68. (at Dukes 12/05/2007)
Duquesne's Kieron Achara pulls in a rebound against Pitt's Tyrell Biggs last night. Achara finished with nine points and three rebounds. (at Dukes 12/05/2007)
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The stage was set with fans crammed into every inch of the Palumbo Center, a highly ranked opponent who happens to be the hated rival from across town and the showcase of a national television audience.
But Duquesne showed up with a severe case of stage fright.
The Dukes didn't look like they were ready for prime time.
Before the 5,358 fans could settle into their seats, Duquesne had missed its first eight shots and were on the short end of a 14-0 score just 210 seconds into the 76th renewal of the City Game
"That wasn't us playing out there," said Duquesne's 6-foot-10 Shawn James, whose 20 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks kept the Dukes competitive in the 73-68 loss last night to Pitt. "We never start that way. We weren't executing. We weren't playing defense the way we can."
The Dukes (6-2) fought the good fight for the next 36 minutes and 30 seconds, but they had dug themselves a deficit too large to overcome.
"We spotted them 14 points," Duquesne junior guard Aaron Jackson said. "We weren't ready, I guess. As soon as we got our composure, we played tight. We probably were a little overanxious and a lot of the jitters got to us."
James was asked if he could explain why he and his teammates were so tentative at the outset. "I really don't know," he said, shaking his head. "I don't have an answer."
Duquesne coach Ron Everhart took a stab at the question.
"We were a little uptight," said Everhart, who scrapped his mass substitution system every two or three minutes for a more conventional approach. James played 38 minutes and Kojo Mensah 32.
It was a frustrating night for Mensah, who was 2 of 12 from the field and had 8 points -- half his team-high average -- along with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers.
"We were anxious. A lot of it was us," Everhart said. "We were trying to force a few things that weren't there. We shot it so quick and didn't get into our offense at the beginning. And I was disappointed we didn't get back on defense better."
Pitt's players leaked out for breakaway layups on a number of occasions to enjoy an 18-6 advantage on fastbreak points.
One statistic that doesn't show up in the box score were hustle plays, particularly two by Pitt's 6-7, 265-pound freshman DeJuan Blair, who dived on the court and outfought Duquesne's players for loose balls that he turned into easy baskets for teammates.
"Those are plays we've got to make," Everhart said. "Those are the little plays that you have to make to win a game like this."
Everhart praised the Dukes' effort to get within 63-62 on James' dunk with a rebound follow with 2:04 remaining and 66-64 on Kieron Achara's putback with 1:18 left.
"It was very frustrating. They gave us so many chances, but we couldn't get over the hump," Jackson said. "We got close ..."
His words trailed off. He didn't complete the sentence.
First Published December 6, 2007 12:00 am