PITTSBURGH (AP)—Pitt couldn’t have had it much easier at the start against city rival Duquesne, a program trying to pick itself up following almost 20 years of nonstop losing and a grim act of violence that further set the Dukes behind.
That Duquesne didn’t go down easily against a much superior team might be a sign that future games might not be as easily won as this one.
Aaron Gray had 15 points and 12 rebounds despite an off shooting night and No. 2 Pittsburgh quickly built a 20-point lead against shootings-depleted Duquesne before easing to a 73-56 victory Wednesday night.
The 7-foot Gray, shooting nearly 70 percent for the season, missed seven of 13 shots but was too much for a Duquesne team that is down to nine scholarship players following the on-campus shooting of five players in September.
With reserve forwards Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young each scoring 10 points against the undersized Dukes, Pitt improved to 9-0 for the fifth straight season, and a fourth consecutive time under coach Jamie Dixon.
Mike Cook added 11 points for Pitt, which has won its last 20 games against non-conference opponents. Rotating nine players regularly, the Panthers quickly opened a 15-5 lead in slightly more than three minutes and upped the lead to 30-10 halfway through the first half.
“We came out energized and we seized the lead, and we came out the way we wanted to come out,” Gray said. “But we weren’t able to stay as sharp once we got up by 20, and we need to work on that.”
Pitt forward Levon Kendall felt the Panthers’ intensity drop off about the time Duquesne’s picked up. Dixon also said Gray hadn’t felt well for several days and, after feeling better Tuesday, was worse on game day.
“We relaxed a little bit and they had a little more energy,” Kendall said. “They were playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
Despite Robert Mitchell’s 13 points and Stephen Wood’s 12, Duquesne (2-5) shot only 38 percent (20-of-52) while losing its fifth in a row following a 2-0 start under new coach Ron Everhart.
It was the first Duquesne-Pitt game since the Sept. 17 shootings at a party students from both schools attended, so Pitt students did not boo the Duquesne players as they normally do opposing teams. Most wore red ribbons as a show of support for its neighboring rival.
The only time the Pitt student body that rings the court jeered the Dukes was when forward Kieron Achara, playing his first game of the season, fouled out late in the game.
For the first time this season, Sam Ashaolu—the Duquesne player who nearly died in the shootings—sat on the team bench. He is still receiving outpatient treatment and therapy for two gunshot wounds to the head. Despite the motivational lift Ashaolu provided, it was too much for the player-thin Dukes to stay with one of the country’s deepest and most talented teams.
“We came out a little awe-struck, a little timid,” Everhart said. “After that we picked it up and tried to compete and fight. But they made us pay for every mistake and, when we had an opportunity like that, we weren’t able to do the same.”
Pitt has won eight of its last nine and 25 of the last 28 in a matchup known locally as the City Game. Duquesne last defeated the Panthers in 2000 and, because of the growing one-sidedness of the rivalry and the circumstances, the atmosphere was more muted than at any of Pitt’s six previous home games.
“Our kids learned a little bit about what it takes to compete at the level Pitt does—what it takes to have a great program,” Everhart said.
The player who gave undersized Duquesne the biggest problem early was the 6-8 Biggs, who presented a difficult matchup problem and scored eight points within several minutes of entering the game.
“They got me the ball in the right spots and all I had to do was knock it down,” Biggs said.
Duquesne, scrapping for loose balls and pushing to beat the taller Panthers downcourt whenever possible, got within 47-37 in the second half. But Gray hit two free throws and Biggs scored inside as Pitt scored the next six points, and the Dukes could not make another push.
Duquesne played a No. 2 team for the fifth time in school history and the first since 1988, when Pitt also was second-ranked. The Dukes have beaten a No. 2 team only once, Saint Bonaventure in 1961.