PITTSBURGH (AP)—Pittsburgh tried to use the same formula that has helped it win its first seven games by an average of 30 points: open up a big lead early, empty the bench and pick up another uncontested victory before the schedule toughens up.
Not this time. For the first time in years, the Panthers struggled to put away a team before leaving town for the first time, and they nearly didn’t get the job done.
Levance Fields scored four consecutive points in the final minute and No. 12 Pittsburgh held off a frantic rally by city rival Duquesne, winning 73-68 on Wednesday night to remain unbeaten.
Sam Young had 23 points and five rebounds to counter Shawn James’ 20 points, nine rebounds and five blocks for Duquesne (6-2), which never led but closed to within one point several times after falling behind 14-0 in the opening 3 1/2 minutes.
“We came out and attacked them and played hard and went right at them, but we got away from that,” Young said. “They weren’t as good as we thought they’d be at the beginning, and they were trash talking a little bit. We let up after that.”
Mike Cook added 12 points and Fields and DeJuan Blair had 10 each for Pitt, which is 8-0 for the sixth consecutive season and has never lost to Duquesne in eight games as a ranked team.
Pitt won its seventh in a row in the rivalry known as the City Game and ninth in 11 games against Duquesne, which hasn’t beaten a ranked team since 1997 but might have if it hadn’t gone 2-of-20 from 3-point range.
Until this game, Duquesne had never lost by fewer than 14 points to a ranked Pitt team.
“We were a little uptight and anxious, and a lot of that (14-0 deficit) was us,” Dukes coach Ron Everhart said. “We forced things that weren’t there. … And Pitt played us tough. They were beating us to loose balls, diving and getting loose balls. But we still had our chances, we just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Pitt, a visiting team in its own city as it made the two-mile trek to play on the Dukes’ court before a sellout crowd of 5,358, came out like this one would be over early.
The Dukes, 3-24 two seasons ago but since rebuilt by Everhart, looked tight and nervous early as Pitt seized its 14-0 lead. Young and Ronald Ramon hit 3-pointers and Blair, a physical 6-foot-8 freshman who outweighed James by 40 pounds, had six points and seven rebounds in the first nine minutes before getting into foul trouble.
“We knew it would be a game of runs—it was 14-0, but we knew it wouldn’t be 28-0 or 42-0,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We had guys in foul trouble and we used different combinations than we’ve used before.”
Duquesne, down 25-8 just before Blair went out, went on a 9-0 run keyed by James and Aaron Jackson to get to within 27-22.
“We weren’t executing and playing defense early,” James said. “That wasn’t us out there. We’ve never started a game so slow.”
The Dukes’ trouble was they couldn’t finish it fast, either. Pitt was up 63-62 before Young hit a 3 from the baseline with 1:46 remaining. Kieron Achara scored on a followup 26 seconds later, but Fields scored on a runner from the lane with exactly a minute left to get Pitt’s lead back to four points.
After Kojo Mensah traveled for Duquesne, Fields made two free throws with 34 seconds remaining to make it 70-66 and the Dukes never got any closer.
Mensah, Duquesne’s leading scorer coming in with a 16.4 average, was held to eight points on 2-of-13 shooting and had six turnovers.
Everhart also modified the two-unit rotation he used as the Dukes began a season 6-0 for the first time in 28 years, substituting conventionally to keep the 6-10 tandem of James and Achara on the court together as much as possible to defend against Pitt’s inside strength.
Duquesne, facing the Panthers with a winning record for the first time in 14 years, shot only 38.5 percent (25-of-65) and was outrebounded 44-36 despite James’ big game. James, among five Duquesne players shot a year ago following a campus party, faced Pitt for the first time after transferring from Northeastern.
Pitt has been 8-0 in every season under fifth-year coach Dixon, but won’t play its first out-of-town game this season until Saturday at Washington.
“At the end of the season, this is going to be a good win for us on the road,” Dixon said. “It’s a big plus for us to come into an atmosphere like this. It’s the biggest game of the year for them and it’s a good game for the city.”