The Pete regains magical atmosphere during Pitt’s revival
Duke F Zion Williamson
Forty-minutes before scheduled tip-off, there were arguably more people in the seating bowl of the Petersen Events Center than there were for 10 of Pitt’s 12 previous home games this season.
Intangibly, probably more energy and delirium at that point than there was for any of the 18 home games that the Panthers seemingly sleepwalked through last season, too.
Even if Pitt basketball isn’t all the way back – the Panthers lost, 79-64, Tuesday night to No. 2 Duke – the Oakland Zoo is. One of the hottest tickets in town in the early-to-mid 2000’s, the Petersen Events Center atmosphere grew increasingly stale through the latter portions of the Jamie Dixon tenure and, certainly, the ruinous two seasons Kevin Stallings was coach.
The presence of an internationally-recognized recording artist aside, more important to the future of Pitt basketball’s relevancy in a crowded professional sports-dominated market were the other 12,880 people who were on hand Tuesday.
“What a neat atmosphere,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And what a great atmosphere that is back at Pitt.”
The crowd was the seventh-largest in The Pete’s history, joining the Jan. 5 ACC opener against North Carolina as the only sellouts of the season.
It was a crowd that arrived early for the late 9 p.m. tip, one that had the lower-bowl bleachers shaking in a way they did regularly when Pitt was an annual NCAA tournament team 10-15 years ago but in a way that was largely and noticeably absent over the most of the past few seasons.
“Obviously, it was amazing environment in there,” Panthers coach Jeff Capel said. “I thought we fed off that early.”
Pitt went on a 9-2 run to take its first lead 5 ½ minutes in, 13-11. It also led, 16-15, after a 3-pointer by Jared Wilson-Frame that sent the packed “Oakland Zoo” student section into a frenzy.
“The crowd was interesting,” Duke freshman R.J. Barrett said. “They call it ‘The Zoo’ for a reason.”
The Panthers never again the led rest of the game, but the Pitt fans largely remained loud enthusiastic throughout.
“Pittsburgh had a great crowd, with all their students right there,” Duke freshman Zion Williamson said.
Williamson and Barrett combined for 51 points, and Cam Reddish added 15 more for the Blue Devils. The three freshmen were all consensus nationally top-five recruits – and Capel had a not-insignificant role in bringing them to Duke.
Capel talked after the game about the talent gap between Pitt and Duke, but he also insisted it is a gap that he and Pitt’s new staff can close.
Atmospheres like the one at the Panthers’ home court Tuesday will only aid in that quest.
“One of the great things about tonight was seeing The Pete like that,” Capel said. “That was really cool, and I think that’s a big step in the right direction for our program.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .