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Pitt defeats Duquesne in City Game, 76-64

NCAA Basketball: Duquesne at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s basketball team continued its mini-streak with a 76-64 victory over Duquesne in the annual City Game on Friday. That’s the third consecutive victory for a team that started the year 1-4 and it gives the Panthers their first .500 mark of the season.

Offensively, Pitt was pretty solid again. They scored 76 points and shot nearly 55% from the field. That included making nine three-pointers while shooting 41% from beyond the arc. The Panthers also cut way back on the turnovers with only eight tonight.

Defensively, I think it was another work in progress night for the team. Duquesne shot only 40% from the field but many misses were the result of blown open looks. Pitt also gave up 20 points to Mike Lewis and 18 points to Eric Williams, Jr., so a few of their guys had big nights.

But overall, it was great to see the team win the game again. Duquesne has to be kicking itself a little bit since the years when they will defeat Pitt will be few and far between. They took last year’s game and, facing a pretty down Pitt team this year, had another shot at winning. I know they look at the game as a difficult matchup in some ways but to lose by 12 to a Pitt team that’s rebuilding so much has to be sort of a disappointment for them.

As has been the case much of the year, Ryan Luther was the key for the Panthers. He led the team in scoring (16 points) and rebounding (nine), and that’s a theme that will continue most of the year. No one else is even close to him in rebounding - his 9.1 rebounds per game entering this game far outpace the No. 2 rebounder, Shamiel Stevenson (4.4). Luther may get beaten out some nights in the scoring column but he’s the team’s top scorer as of right now and we’ll continue to see nights where he leads the Panthers in both.

I know his return was somewhat downplayed just because it wasn’t seen as much of a factor based on how much the Panthers lost. This year was considered a lost one and Luther coming back didn’t do much to quell the angst of the direction of the program. But he’s doing so much for the team right now and Pitt fans should be extremely glad he returned as he’s easily their most important player.

I also like what Pitt continues to get from freshmen Marcus Carr and Shamiel Stevenson. Carr had 15 points, five assists, and astonishingly, no turnovers. Turning the ball over has been Carr’s Achilles heel and it was great to see him rebound from the five-turnover game he ha against High Point last time out. Stevenson had another big night with 13 points and seven rebounds. That duo could do a lot of damage in the next several seasons. Both have work to do but to be getting these kinds of contributions out of true freshman is great to see.

One guy that we haven’t talked a lot about is fellow freshman Parker Stewart. Stewart had a great night off the bench with 14 points, connecting on four of six three-pointers. Stewart has been a little streaky this year but that’s his second big game in three nights as he had 12 against Lehigh last Saturday. He’s had some bad shooting performances mixed in with some good ones but he’s also showing real promise as a third freshman contributor that can do some damage off the bench.

A down spot tonight was Jared Wilson-Frame, who had his worst game of the season with only three points on 1-9 shooting from the field. Wilson-Frame has quietly been struggling a little and he hasn’t reached his season average in points (14.0 ppg coming into tonight) in the last four games. He’s averaging only about nine points a game over that stretch and, worse, is shooting only about 34% from the field. He’s also not doing very much anywhere else, averaging fewer than three rebounds and about one assist per game. Wilson-Frame also isn’t even getting to the free throw line. At all. He’s now gone three straight games without a single free throw attempt, which seems kind of impossible, considering he was the team’s leading scorer coming into tonight.

I do think he’ll rebound from this a little and get back to contributing. But he’s really battling through a tough stretch here over these last few games for whatever reason. One interesting note is that he sat quite a bit tonight, playing only 21 minutes. That’s a career-low for him since joining the Panthers and it will be interesting to see if he continues to lose minutes if guys like Parker Stewart play well off the bench and add another dimension to the offense.

This Pitt team still has a long way to go and the competition, to be fair, hasn’t been real great over the last few games. But I do think the team is showing improvement. If you look at what they did over the first four games compared to these last four, they’ve played considerably better. Don’t get me wrong - it will certainly still be a long season. But the Panthers seem like they are avoiding the worst-case scenario type of year that many feared where they might only win six or seven games.

They are beating the bad teams on the schedule and that is better than the alternative. The real test, though, will come when the competition increases.

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