Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Blue Devils put on a show, roll past Panthers
With the Oakland Zoo bouncing and hip-hop legend Jay-Z bobbing his head to the beats of his own songs courtside, the Pitt-Duke game brought back memories of Petersen Events Center as an intimidating home court.
That first-year Pitt coach Jeff Capel was coaching for the first time against his alma mater and mentor Mike Krzyzewski — which Capel called a “surreal” experience — only made the storyline as impressive as the atmosphere.
Pitt was facing its fourth nationally ranked opponent in the past six games and fifth this season — all five were ranked in the top 15 — and No. 2 Duke was only days removed from the top ranking.
And the Panthers were 9-2 all-time against top-five teams at the Pete.
This had all the makings of an unbelievable upset.
Instead, we got a monumental blowout as Pitt had no answer for Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils pulled away for a 79-64 victory Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 12,881 at the Pete.
“We beat a good team and a crowd that was ready,” Krzyzewski said. “What a good atmosphere — an atmosphere that’s back.”
1. Straight for seven: For the first seven minutes, this game was everything the Panthers could have imagined.
Duke jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but Pitt battled back. Terrell Brown and Williamson traded tip dunks. Xavier Johnson drove left for a layup, going all Isaiah Thomas by putting the ball high off the glass over Williamson’s outstretched arms.
Trey McGowens scored on a driving layup, drawing a foul but missing the free throw. Then Johnson found Jared Wilson-Frame for a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie it at 11-11.
McGowens gave the Panthers their first lead, 13-11, at 14:23, but it lasted only 11 seconds before Williamson tied it again. The highlight for Pitt came when Wilson-Frame followed a crossover with a step-back 3 for a 16-15 lead at 13:04.
“It was an amazing environment in there, and I thought we fed off it early,” Capel said. “Then we went through a stretch where we couldn’t score.”
That’s when Williamson took over.
2. Zion dominates: Williamson, the ballyhooed 6-foot-7, 285-pound freshman forward, put on a display of aerial athleticism and brute force in the first half.
Williamson scored 17 points in the first 13 minutes. He finished the first half going 9 of 9 from the field, including a 3-pointer, for 19 points with five rebounds (four offensive), two assists and a blocked shot.
The rest of the Blue Devils shot 7 of 27 from the field.
Pitt did what it could against Williamson, switching from man-to-man to zone defense. But Brown had to defend 6-11 center Marques Bolden, and the Panthers had no one else taller than 6-6 on the floor.
This was a game where Pitt really missed the physical presence of power forward Shamiel Stevenson, who left the program at the semester break and transferred to Nevada.
Williamson scored off a rebound, drilled a 3 and had a left-handed tip as part of Duke’s 12-0 run to turn a 16-15 deficit into a 27-16 lead at 9:34 of the first half.
Late in the first half, Williamson showed off his handle in traffic when he went behind his back on the dribble in the lane and scored on a finger-roll for a 41-25 lead.
Capel marveled at how difficult Williamson is to defend, noting that “no one’s done it yet.”
3. Sam says: Pitt great Sam Clancy watched the game from his customary courtside spot in front of the luxury suites.
The Panthers could have used someone like Clancy, a powerhouse who scored 1,671 points and averaged 11.6 rebounds a game.
Just watching warm-ups, Clancy already was impressed by Williamson. After the first half, he gave a rave review.
“He’s a heck of a talent,” Clancy said. “He’s overpowering, a man amongst boys — they used to say that about me — and we’ve got nobody that could match up with him. But I do like how our guys, no matter how big or small, are getting physical with him.”
Clancy compared Williamson to the one big man who could out-leap him back in the day: former Rutgers All-American Jimmy Bailey, the No. 6 pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.
“To me, he compares to Bailey because nobody can jump with him,” Clancy said. “Our guys have him boxed out, and he goes right over them. He’s more polished than Bailey, who couldn’t handle the ball. You’ve got to try to push him away from the basket. He’s got a good handle, he’s strong as an ox and the most athletic guy out there, with (R.J.) Barrett.”
How would Clancy have defended Williamson?
“I would’ve got physical with him,” Clancy said.
That’s why they call him Sam Bam.
4. Capel takes a T: When Johnson was called for a questionable foul while reaching in on Barrett with two seconds left on Duke’s shot clock and 46.7 left in the half, Capel expressed his displeasure by giving an official an earful on the sideline.
Capel followed with some choice words, finally drawing a technical foul after Barrett made his first free throw. That didn’t stop Capel from continuing to question the call.
“I was arguing with the ref,” Capel said. “It was the right call. I deserved a tech.”
It was a strong move as Duke outscored Pitt, 29-9, to end the half. The Blue Devils’ 44-25 halftime lead was their largest of the game at that point.
This is what I liked: Capel showed the same fight in sticking up for one of his players that he was demanding from his Panthers.
5. Final thoughts: As good as Pitt is against top-five teams, the Panthers struggle against teams ranked No. 2. Pitt is 3-10 all-time against the No. 2 team in AP poll, 1-5 at home. …
Coach K’s key to the game: Duke stayed in a zone defense, using its length to prevent Johnson and McGowens from getting to the free-throw line with any frequency. Johnson (eight points) didn’t attempt a foul shot, and McGowens (14) was 0 for 4 from the line. They combined for 22 points, nine below their combined average. …
As dominant as Williamson was — and he finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block — I was as impressed with fellow Duke freshman Barrett. Barrett is so smooth and can play several positions, so I can see why he was ranked higher as a prospect and is the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. The 6-7 swingman made 10 of 24 shots, including three 3s, and scored a game-high 26 points.
“They have two really, really, really good players and other good players around them.” Capel said. “But they have two players that are very different. That’s why I think it’s the premier program in the country. They’re well-coached. They’re a really good team.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .