It seems like every home game the Pittsburgh Panthers (12-7, 2-4) find themselves down 0-5 to start the game. It definitely wasn’t the start they were hoping for against the second ranked team in the country, the visiting Duke Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1). However, an aggressive Terrell Brown recorded 4 points early in the contest before picking up his second foul at the 16:22 mark.
Despite that, a 5-0 run by the Panthers punctuated by a corner three-pointer by Jared Wilson-Frame tied the game at 11 right before the first media timeout. He connected again a few minutes later, this time giving Pitt a 16-15 advantage.
The Blue Devils wasted no time getting the lead back: A 12-0 run powered entirely by the freshman duo of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett seemed to wake the sleeping giant. The former made a living around the rim, and was a perfect 9-9 from the field for the half which helped him tally 19 halftime points. The latter struggled from the field, just 4-13 for the half, but attacked the basket every chance he got on route to 12 points at halftime.
“We took a punch and we didn’t punch back”, was Wilson-Frame’s response to how their opponent started to pull away in the first half.
Xavier Johnson was the lone bright spot for the Panthers in the back 10 of the first half. His two, off-balance layups were the only field goals Pitt recorded over that span other than a layup by Wilson-Frame. The Panthers didn’t play poorly, but found themselves down 25-44 at the half.
Duke opened the second half with Barrett living at the rim and Williamson slamming home his first transition dunk of the game. Pitt found themselves generally down 20 points, although never appeared deflated. A floater by Trey McGowens at the 8:54 mark brought the Panthers within 16 points of the Blue Devils, but they didn’t get much closer than that. Duke rolled to an easy victory, 79-64.
The 14 points by McGowens were a team-high with Brown and Wilson-Frame adding 12 each. On the other side, Duke was led by Barrett’s 26 points followed by 25 from Williamson.
During head coach Jeff Capel’s opening remarks, he acknowledged the duo of Barrett and Williamson: “They have two guys that are really different.”
“No one has done it yet,” was Capel’s response to their struggles defending Williamson.
On if there was any positive that team could take away from the game, McGowens said, “We can’t take (away) any positive.” On that note, Johnson’s streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games came to an end at 18 as he failed to reach the 10-point mark.
The Panthers will look to rebound on the road against the 23rd ranked Louisville Cardinals (13-5, 4-1) this Saturday. Despite back-to-back losses against ACC opponents, Coach K believes Pitt is heading in the right direction under Jeff Capel: “You’re all lucky to have him, and he’s lucky to be here.”