PITTSBURGH – ittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon spent the 48 hours leading up to Monday night’s visit from No. 17 Duke trying to convince his team it needed to return to the program’s hard-nosed roots if it wanted to beat the Blue Devils.
The message, apparently, was lost in translation.
The defensive intensity Dixon preached about never arrived as the 18th-ranked Panthers were run over in the second half of an 80-65 loss.
“I felt like we would come out and defend better and we simply didn’t,” Dixon said. “Give them credit, they made shots, they got into a rhythm. When they missed shots, they got long rebounds. It got away from us. They played well and I don’t think we did.”
Not nearly well enough, at least, to keep up with Duke in one of the most highly anticipated regular season games in program history.
Jabari Parker scored 21 points, reserve guard Andre Dawkins added 20 and the Blue Devils (17-4, 6-2 ACC) won their fifth straight by handing Pitt (18-3, 6-2), their first home loss of the season.
Duke made 13 of 25 3-point attempts, including four during a 15-3 run midway through the second half that broke open a tight game.
“We wanted to win, we knew the hype was there ... we (saw) the crowd,” Pitt guard Lamar Patterson said. “The good thing was it wasn’t the end of the season.”
Patterson finished with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting as the Panthers’ leading scorer had trouble while fending off occasional double teams and the long arms of Duke’s Rodney Hood, who spent most of the night keeping Patterson off balance.
“They were just denying me the ball the whole game,” Patterson said. “We were expecting it but we just didn’t get it done.”
Parker helped Duke fend off some early game jitters before Dawkins poured it on. The senior drilled 6 of 7 3-point attempts to quiet the largest crowd in the 12-year history of the Petersen Events Center.
“We knew he could shoot,” Patterson said. “He hit a couple tough ones and that gets you going. Unfortunately we left him open, that wasn’t smart.”
The Panthers have strolled through their first month in the ACC, their only setback a four-point loss to fellow Big East refugee Syracuse. They have posted road wins at N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Maryland, but the Blue Devils constituted a significant step up in class.
It’s a step Pitt didn’t quite look prepared for on a night the Panthers gave up a season-high in points. Duke shot 55 percent (16 of 29) in the second half, outrebounded the Panthers 37-32 and turned it over just seven times.
“”This is one of our youngest teams so they’ve had to learn under fire and tonight we played very well and we played with a lot of poise,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “(Pitt is) really good. We play again, we may not beat them, but tonight we did because we had that poise.”
Still, Pitt had its chances. Two free throws by Patterson brought Pitt within 52-51 with 9:41 left when the Blue Devils took off.
Dawkins slipped through the lane for a tip-in to get going. Quinn Cook followed with a 3-pointer. Dawkins responded by knocking down a 3 on each of Duke’s next three trips down the court, including a 25-foot heave at the shot clock buzzer. One last 3 made it 67-54 with 5:32 left. Pitt never drew within single digits the rest of the way.
Parker accepted congratulations from his teammates as the final seconds ticked off and the crowd headed out into the bitter cold night, a decisive end to a game that featured eight ties and nine lead changes over the first 25 minutes.
“We had to get stops and we didn’t do it,” Dixon said.
With the student section — some of whom had camped overnight — producing small tremors every time the Blue Devils had the ball in their hands, the Panthers controlled the game’s first 10 minutes but missed an opportunity to bury Duke early by missing a handful of shots in the lane. During one sequence Pitt grabbed four offensive rebounds but failed to convert.
Parker didn’t let the reprieve go to waste. The versatile forward did a little bit of everything to get the Blue Devils back in it, with a dozen NBA scouts in the front row getting an eyeful. He dunked twice, hit two 3-pointers and even put together a nifty up-and-under move that drew two Panthers off their feet before he laid it in.