City Game will reveal much for Panthers
Duquesne hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 1977, but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Friday night's 83rd meeting between the Panthers and Dukes at Consol Energy Center still carries special meaning.
“It's very clear how important it is to people in Pittsburgh,” said Dixon, who's 11-0 in the City Game. “I don't know if any school has more rivalries than we have — Duquesne, West Virginia, Penn State, (Connecticut), Villanova.
“Duquesne has a big factor in where we are,” he said, “(and) how good they're going to be.”
Playing only two home games, Pitt is 4-3 following Tuesday's 81-69 loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Duquesne (3-1) has played three home games.
Since joining the ACC in 2013, Pitt no longer faces former Big East rivals West Virginia, Connecticut and Villanova or Big Ten member Penn State. Duquesne, however, remains an annual opponent for the Panthers, who lead the series 51-31 and have won 18 of the past 20.
Duquesne's last victory against Pitt was a 71-70 decision in 2000.
Former Eastern 8 rivals (which later became the Atlantic 10), the teams met three times in 1977, when Duquesne won two of three. Since the series resumed in 1953 following a 14-year absence, Pitt and Duquesne have played every year except 1954, 1964-65, 1969, 1991 and 1997.
The series has shifted to Consol Energy Center, where the last four games have been played. Previously, 35 games were played at Mellon/Civic Arena, 21 games at Fitzgerald Field House, 14 games at Pitt Pavilion, six games at neutral sites and four games at Palumbo Center.
Pitt won the last four meetings by double digits, but there have been close encounters. The Panthers won 67-58 in double overtime in 2009 and 73-68 in 2007.
Regarding his current team, Dixon seeks improvement from an offense that shot only 36.1 percent against Indiana.
The Panthers struggled to score against the 2-3 zone, but Dixon was encouraged by a late first-half surge when Pitt spread the floor and drilled four of its total of seven 3-pointers in the final three minutes.
“We got some open 3s, and we made some 3s,” Dixon said.
Pitt sophomore guard Josh Newkirk led the charge off the bench, pushing the ball upcourt and attacking the rim. Newkirk scored 16 points with eight assists in a team-high 34 minutes as junior starter James Robinson shot 1 for 9.
“He was playing the best and made some shots,” Dixon said of Newkirk. “He was the guy most aggressive against the zone that actually made some shots from three.”
Sophomore guard Chris Jones said Pitt's backcourt needs to follow Newkirk's lead against Duquesne.
“In that small time at the end of the first half, Josh did a good job of pushing it, getting in the lane and making plays,” said Jones, who scored a team-high 18 points against Indiana. “In the second half, we were kind of passing the ball around instead of getting in the lane. We've got to do a better job of getting the ball inside.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org