Pitt's search for its first win against a ranked team nearly ended Wednesday but the Panthers blew a late eight-point lead at home against No. 11 Louisville. Following a loss head coach Jamie Dixon termed devastating, the Panthers entered their final home game against No. 15 Duke.
The Panthers responded appropriately to a heartbreaking loss and, in their seventh try, finally notched a signature win for their season and NCAA Tournament resume.
Forward Jamel Artis led five Pitt players in double-figures with 17 points and Pitt beat No. 15 Duke 76-62 on Sunday.
“Our preparation the last two days was terrific,” Dixon said. “Our response to a devastating loss was important because of how hard we played and how much we prepared. It was important how we responded to it and we responded well.”
Guard James Robinson scored 14 points for Pitt (20-8, 9-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) on his Senior Day. Forward Sheldon Jeter chipped in 11 points off the bench while forwards Michael Young and Ryan Luther added 10 points apiece.
“I thought yesterday was our best practice as a team,” Robinson said. “This late in the season, that’s saying something.”
Guard Grayson Allen led all scorers with 22 points for Duke (21-8, 10-6 ACC). Forward Brandon Ingram finished with 17 points and guard Luke Kennard scored 11.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he anticipated Duke would suffer a loss like this and could see it in the faces of his “drained” players during the second half of the Blue Devils’ win Thursday against Florida State.
“We just could not muster up anything today and I was not unable to help them do that,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s something we’ve just got to put behind us.”
Pittsburgh opened the game with a 10-0 run to secure a commanding early lead. Ingram scored Duke's first basket four minutes with a 3-pointer to end Pitt's spurt.
The Panthers led by as many as 14 points after guard Cameron Johnson's 3-pointer extended the lead to 22-8 at the 12-minute mark.
“We never responded,” Allen said. “They came out hot and ready to play. In front of their home crowd, they were amped up and ready to play and we weren’t.”
Duke trailed by double-digits for most of the first half but the Blue Devils cut their deficit to single-digits by halftime as Pitt led 39-32 after the first 20 minutes. Duke made 6 of 16 3-point attempts to compensate for a 5-of-14 shooting start from the field.
Young opened the second half with a pair of dunks on back-to-back possessions to restore Pitt's double-digit lead and force a Duke timeout 90 seconds into the period. The Panthers continued to open the half on a 9-1 run and went up by 17 points on Robinson's free throws, 52-35.
Kennard stole an inbounds pass and made his third 3-pointer to bring Duke within 10 points with 10 minutes to play, 58-48, but Pitt prevented the Blue Devils from accumulating further momentum. Luther followed Jeter's jumper with a 3-pointer that pushed the Panthers' lead back to 16 points just two minutes later.
“We just wanted to keep pushing and battling all the way to the end and not give in,” Dixon said. “That’s been our mentality. We can’t give up any opportunities to get better, whether we’re up 20 or whatever it might be.”
Pitt's lead swelled to 23 points, 74-51, at the 5:52 mark on Artis' 3-pointer from the top of the key over two Duke defenders to beat the shot clock. Duke closed the game on a 7-0 run to cut the final margin to 14 points.
“I just think they did their thing,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not like it was a surprise, we just couldn’t stop it."