The Panthers put together a solid effort and had enough inside to defeat Duquesne 80-66. But amidst the fairly comfortable win, was some disturbingly sloppy play.
But before I get into the post-game analysis, I've got to admit that I was completely and utterly wrong about the atmosphere. I was hesitant about it as the last game at Mellon Arena was nondescript and mediocre. I feared the same type of thing, but was pleasantly surprised - and in a big way. The place was electric - there were far more Duquesne fans than I envisioned and the Consol Center was an incredible place to watch a basketball game. The Zoo and Duquesne's student section 'The Crew' were seated at opposite ends behind the baskets and it really provided for a lot of good back and forth action. And, by the way, if you didn't think the Dukes student section could rival the Zoo (at least for one night), they did ... and they even had more fans there.
Onto the recap.
Even though Ashton Gibbs led the Panthers in scoring with 22 points, this was clearly Gary McGhee's night. The senior center was involved with some putbacks early in the game and got the crowd going with several dunks. He finished with career-highs in points (12) and rebounds (13), and his seven blocks were not only a career best, but also a tie for the school record. I was really curious as to how much he would play in this game since he played sparingly in Pitt's last game against Penn.
But it was clear he was ready to play in this game:
"I definitely felt like that, since I had a size advantage, I could have a pretty strong night on the boards," McGhee said. "It was one of those nights where everything felt good."
By the end of the game, everyone knew he had made the difference. His teammates knew it:
"Gary definitely got us going," said Gibbs, pointing to the two baskets McGhee made on passes that were deflected his way. "He was always in the right place at the right time."
Duquesne coach Ron Everhart knew it:
"No question he was the difference," Everhart said. "He was very active and he presented a problem. And Pitt is a very, very good defensive team."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 8-0 against the Dukes, who last won in the series in 2000. He said McGhee ``came up with every big rebound - he hauled them in. He had to do a lot of things out there for us.''
1/4 of the way into his senior season, and I think I've finally figured McGhee out. He's not capable of doing a lot offensively unless it consists of putbacks and easy shots inside. We all heard about how he was playing over the summer and hoped he would become more of a force inside. But the fact is that he's fairly limited offensively. There was a play tonight where someone tried to set him up for an alleyoop. Even though he was pretty open, he awkwardly caught the ball then couldn't get close enough to the rim for a dunk, missing a layup instead. I just don't think he's a great offensive player. But guess what? That's fine. He was a force on defense and even plays where he didn't block the shot, he was active and really altered shots. True, he was taller than anyone that Duquesne threw at him, but he flat out made plays.
Another player I was really impressed with was Nasir Robinson. He looks healthier and more active than early this year. After a nice start from Talib Zanna this season, he's slowed down a bit and has seen a decline in his minutes recently. He's not been in double figures in points OR rebounding in the past four games now and over that span, has only 13 points and 14 rebounds - total. Even though most of us (me included) were on the Zanna train early on, Robinson could get his starting spot back any day now.
"I thought we defended the three well, early," Dixon added. "I thought we did a pretty good job of that, and rebounding, pretty well. Those were the two things we emphasized pretty well, coming in."
Heck, it wasn't just defending the three's - it was everything. Duquesne shot only 32% from three-point range and 36% from the field. The Dukes even shot only 38% from the free throw line.
Just not their night offensively.
It wasn't all good for Pitt, though. Their 19 turnovers and 24 personal fouls definitely made the game closer than it should have been. I'm surprisingly not too concerned about the turnovers - it was an emotional game and most of them were just due to being flat out sloppy. Pitt doesn't typically play that way and I think the team will clean up those mistakes.
Pitt's defense was another big factor: