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Duquesne looks to snap 12-year skid vs. Pitt in City Game

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 11:18 p.m.
Duquesne's Jeremiah Jones tries to save the ball as he is defended by Charlotte's Pierria Henry (15) and Ivan Benkovic (44) on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at Palumbo Center.

It went unspoken in the heat of summer-league season, but even then Duquesne sophomore Jeremiah Jones wanted to beat Pitt.

“They've beaten us I don't know how many years,” said Jones, who shared a Green Tree court with Panthers players. “It comes to a point where you have to take that personal. We never really bring up the City Game in the summer, but it's always in the back of our minds.”

Pitt (6-0) and Duquesne (2-2) will meet for the 82nd time at 1 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center. In recent decades, the series record has been one-sided. Pitt has won 12 in a row since Duquesne's victory in 2000 and 22 of the past 24. The Panthers won last season 66-45.

This season's Dukes roster has mostly newcomers, but this crosstown matchup's importance isn't lost on them, said second-year coach Jim Ferry, who considers Pitt a measuring stick.

“You don't have to convince anybody,” Ferry said. “I think everybody is excited about it. They play against each other all summer long. They play pick-up against each other. They see each other out at restaurants. There's hype to the game. ... We don't have to talk about it. If anything, you've got to bring it down a little bit.”

About 4,000 fans were at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Pitt's victory over Stanford on Tuesday, an attendance figure the City Game could triple. A year ago, 13,089 watched Pitt and Duquesne at Consol. There were 12,860 fans in 2011.

“That doesn't happen in November or December,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of the turnout for a nonconference game. “Turn on the TV. It's not happening. So I think (the City Game) means a lot.”

Said Ferry: “I've been involved in rivalries ... but this is to a much larger scale because the whole city gets behind it. There's definitely a dividing line between the Pitt fans and the Duquesne fans. My job right now is to change what has been happening (on the court) over the past couple of years.”

That won't come easily. The Dukes were impressed after watching Pitt dominate Texas Tech, 76-53, and then beat Stanford, 88-67, in the Legends Classic. Pitt's Lamar Patterson scored 47 points combined in the wins. The Panthers are outscoring opponents by nearly 25 points.

“They're more explosive than they were last year,” Jones said. “They've got scoring all over the floor this year. They can shoot it. They can drive it.”

Pitt has held five of six opponents to fewer than 60 points. That was, in part, because the Panthers have adapted to the stricter foul rules enforced this season, Ferry said.

“Because of their size and their length, they can take up so much space and crowd,” Ferry said. “They're playing physical, but they're playing very smart. I think they're doing a better job of (adapting) than other teams ... staying as physical as they can within the rules.”

Pitt's size was too much for Duquesne last season. The Panthers held a 49-33 rebounding edge, which included 21 offensive rebounds. Duquesne replaced all but three scholarship players from that lineup.

“I believe the gap in talent has decreased tremendously,” Jones said. “They've got some good players over there, don't get me wrong. They're talented one to five. But we think we're talented as well.”

The Dukes, who have been without freshmen forwards Isaiah Watkins (leg surgery) and Jordan Robinson (awaiting eligibility), lost sophomore guard Micah Mason to a broken bone in his shooting hand.

“We're going to beat (Pitt). It's eventually going to happen,” Ferry said. “Is it going to be Saturday? I don't know. But it's going to get to that point.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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