Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
After three early season matchups with less-than-stellar opponents, the Dukes faced their biggest test yet against Pitt in the 83rd annual City Game. Against an ACC team with ACC size, the Red & Blue held their own. The size Ferry has added in the frontcourt and the speed he’s gathered in the backcourt helped shrink the gap between Pitt’s nationally-recognized program and their own.
They’re not there yet, but this year’s performance against the Panthers is indicative of the types of changes Ferry and his staff are orchestrating everyday in the Palumbo Center.
Last year, the Panthers outrebounded the Dukes 45-31. This year, with a young cast of big men including Tysean Powell, L.G. Gill and Jordan Robinson working in the paint, the Dukes grabbed 37 boards to Pitt’s 45.
Still, Ferry said his team “failed” against a bigger and stronger opponent.
“We were so soft in the first half as a program, and it set the tone,” he said.
The Dukes did struggle to match Pitt’s energy in the first half, and that’s why they headed to the locker room at halftime down 39-27. They shot only 31 percent from the field, and finished just 2-of-11 from 3-point range in the games’ first 20 minutes
The second half was a different story. The Dukes pulled within six points with under four minutes to play, but for every 3-pointer that Jordan Stevens and Derrick Colter knocked down, the Panthers had an answer.
The energetic Duquesne crowd was ready to blow the roof off the building when the Red & Blue began to mount a charge with just under four minutes to go, but as Ferry said, the Panthers made plays when they needed to.
“We stayed with it, we came back and cut it to six,” Ferry said. “[But] when they needed a rebound, they got it. When they needed a shot, they got it.
It’s disappointing that the Dukes dropped their 14th straight game against Pitt. But it’s also unrealistic to expect much more than what the Dukes showed on Friday night at Consol against an ACC opponent that’s already played against San Diego State, Kansas State and Indiana.
Losing to Pitt sucks. A victory would have meant a lot to a team and a fan base that hasn’t seen much good basketball in the last four years. The Dukes came up short in the City Game once again in 2014, but what’s to come in the rest of the season at the Palumbo Center will be better.
The team is young, athletic and fast. And they don’t play anymore ACC teams the rest of the regular season.
The hope is that the Dukes will be able to take what they learned against Pitt and build on it in the Atlantic 10.
If they can continue to refine the style of play Ferry is demanding, there will be plenty of winning basketball this season at the Palumbo Center.