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Gorman: City Game can serve as a measuring stick for Pitt, Duquesne

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, 10:00 p.m.
Pitt's Ryan Luther tips in the ball over Duquesne's Tydus Verhoeven in the first half Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Ryan Luther tips in the ball over Duquesne's Tydus Verhoeven in the first half Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

The good news is that the City Game is a rivalry again, as Duquesne ending Pitt's 15-year run of dominance last year resuscitated the crosstown meeting.

The bad news?

That Pitt had to drop to Duquesne's depths for that to happen, instead of the other way around.

Who would have guessed Scott Barnes would serve as the great equalizer in this series?

The former Pitt athletic director made a mess of the once-prominent program with his handling of Jamie Dixon's departure and Kevin Stallings' hiring before bolting for Oregon State.

Now that both programs are in rebuilding mode, they can use each other as a basketball barometer.

It's the first year at Duquesne for Keith Dambrot after 13 seasons at Akron. It might as well be the first at Pitt for Stallings, after the second-year coach's offseason housecleaning. Both are building programs essentially from scratch. Undoubtedly, their success will be measured against each other.

“I think that there are similarities to where each program is currently,” Stallings said, “but we're not judging our program off what we do in the City Game.”

Nor should Pitt, even if Stallings was relieved to win after a 64-55 loss to Duquesne in his inaugural City Game, the first win for the Dukes since 2000. He even said he “didn't want to be the stooge” by losing his first two games against Duquesne.

It was bad enough that the Panthers lost to Montana and Penn State — the latter by 31 — and Duquesne to Cornell and Robert Morris. But Dambrot noted the obvious truth: Duquesne needs to beat Cornell and Robert Morris if it wants to contend in the Atlantic 10, and Pitt needs to beat Duquesne if it wants to compete in the ACC. Bigger fish to fry.

“I've been around the game long enough to know about Pitt-Duquesne,” Dambrot said before his first City Game. “In order for it to be a great rivalry, in my opinion, both teams have to be good. That's how I see it. Now, it's been a good rivalry, anyway. But if both teams were good, it could be an unbelievable rivalry. It could be Duke-North Carolina.”

Let's not get carried away. The City Game game was televised on Facebook, not ESPN.

But this once was a great rivalry. Duquesne dominated Pitt when Dambrot's father, Sid, played for the top-10 Dukes from 1952-54, before Pitt turned the tables in the late 1970s.

“When my dad played — and this is Sid Dambrot saying this, not Keith saying this — Pitt wasn't even in the equation,” Dambrot said. “It was Duquesne. (Pitt was) like a JV team. That's what my dad told me. But then Duquesne became like a JV team compared to Pitt. My dad was distraught when it flipped. He didn't like it. Maybe that's why I'm here.”

For the 86th meeting, both looked like JV teams. You needed a program to know who was playing, as every game — even home games — are firsts for most of these players.

Duquesne scored the City Game's first points, on a Tydus Verhoeven dunk, before Pitt took off for a 76-64 victory Friday before a crowd of 10,118 at PPG Paints Arena.

There's hope for the future. Pitt added 10 newcomers and has St. John's transfer Malik Ellison sitting out this season. Duquesne awaits the addition of five transfers and five recruits, four taller than 6-foot-9.

“Hopefully, in two to three years from now, it'll be a high-level game,” Dambrot said. “It was a low-level game. But it's still a great rivalry.”

One that should only get better, as long as Pitt and Duquesne do.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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