PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — Duquesne men’s basketball players know the deal when it comes to the No. 17 University of Pittsburgh Panthers, (5-1) who they play tomorrow night in the always hyped-up City Game at Consol Energy Center.
“They’ve won for awhile now and I consider them an arch rival. I come out harder against Pitt than I do any other team. It’s just a great game to play and a great atmosphere,” said Duquesne sophomore guard T.J. McConnell, who graduated from Chartiers Valley. “I went my senior year when they (Duquesne) took them into double overtime and I wish I was a part of that.”
Now senior guard, Ashton Gibbs was a sophomore that year (2009) and led Pitt with 15 points, while Dukes’ then junior guard Bill Clark drained six three’s to finish with 23 points for Duquense. It was the only year in the past three matchups Pitt was unranked.
Pitt has won the past 10 games against the Dukes, the longest steak by either team in the 79 years of this matchup, and only two of the past 15 meetings were games decided by less than three points.
“Personally, I know how they play and what we need to do to win. Ashton is a shooter. He looks to score. Travon scores, but he’s really looking to pass, J.J. is a rebounder—a big strong guard, Dante posts up hard and can rebound,” Duquesne junior guard and leading scorer (16.5) Sean Johnson said about some of the guys who he played against this past summer in the Greentree league, where several Division I players from around the area compete.
Yes, Ashton Gibbs is Pitt’s leading scorer, with 19.3 points per game, Travon Woodall’s 8.5 assists per game not only leads the team, but is third in the country, J.J. Moore is a 6-6 three-guard and Dante Taylor is averaging 5 rebounds for the team, despite having a slow start to the season and sitting out the past two games due to migraines.
Then there are the guys Johnson didn’t mention—adding to an athletic frontcourt for the Panthers. McDonalds All-American, 6-9 forward Khem Birch has begun to find his place in Pitt’s past two games. He had six blocks against Robert Morris on Sunday evening. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna lead the team in rebounding, averaging 6 apiece.
“They’ve got every component you can have. They’ve got really good big people who are shot blockers, they’ve got veteran guards and guys who can shoot it and share the ball, and Nasir is just one of those guys who I think would set any team apart at any level, with his toughness, physicality and the mentality he brings to the game,” said Duquesne head Coach Ron Everhart yesterday before practice.
Pitt senior forward Nasir Robinson is averaging 13.8 ppg. and 4 rpg. so far this season, and he is ranked ninth in the country in field goal percentage. They are a balanced team, but they have several underclassmen in their lineup similar the Dukes.
There will be challenges for Duquesne that they know will have to be key focuses if they want to win. In the past three games against the Panthers the Dukes have been out-rebounded by a total of 47, and are still trying to find that aggressiveness under the hoop this season, as they are being out-rebounded by 10 per game. Pitt is plus 8.8 in rebounds for the season.
“For us, we’ve developed a style of play and a comfort zone. We’re going to be undersized a little bit, so we’re just going to try to have to make up for that in other areas, but we’re going to have to address the rebounding issue. Obviously we’re going to have to do something from a physicality standpoint to negate some of the advantage that they will have there,” Coach Everhart said. “I think that’s just a matter of will as opposed to a matter of skill. We just have to develop a mindset that will allow us to do it better.”
Going into Wednesday’s game the Dukes are plus 8.3 in turnover margin and are averaging nearly 17 assists and 9 steals per game. Pitt is ranked seventh in the country in assists, with almost 20 per game, and 13th in field goal percentage at 51 percent.
With teams like the University of Central Florida and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas upsetting UConn and North Carolina respectively, it probably wouldn’t be accurate to say the Dukes players never think about what a win tomorrow night could do for them; or at least their confidence and people’s perceptions.
“When I was a freshman and we beat Xavier and they were ranked ninth. I know how hyped up it gets when you get a big win like that, so it’s definitely a goal to win and put our school on the map this year,” said senior guard B.J. Monteiro, who currently has 899 career points.
The game is a hyped-up game, a rival game within the city and a win for Duquesne would be huge. Players are pumped to play in front of a big crowd at a big arena. They know the deal, but more importantly, so does Coach.
“Any program like ours that can win a game against a team that’s ranked where they are right now would be certainly a feather in your cap, but then again at the end of the day, it’s all about how you perform in your conference and down the wire in February and if you have a chance to play after the season is over. Ultimately, for those guys and for us, it really is just another game outside of your league. Hopefully as a coach I can make our guys understand that we have to remember that. It’s not a live-all, end-all, die-all type of situation,” said Coach Everhart.
And we, as spectators and media have to remember, coaches and players can only say so much to appease us. They know that the play during that 40 minutes on the floor really does all the talking we need.
-The matchup is set for 7PM on Wednesday, November 30th at Consol Energy Center.
In case you wanted to know…
- T.J. McConnell is leading the team in rebound and assists with 5 and 6.2 respectively. He is also ranked 13th in the country in steals per game with 3.17.
- Pitt freshman Khem Birch is averaging 2.3 blocks per game.
- Eight Dukes players have scored in double digits in their first six games this season, with four players reaching double digits in the past five games.
The Aly Way