The 77th Annual City Game

Growing up in Pittsburgh, sophomore forward DeJuan Blair has seen his fair share of City Games between Pitt and Duquesne, but he never attended one until he joined the Panthers last season.

Maybe that's why DeJuan Blair wasn't exactly sure what the annual game between Pittsburgh (7-0) and Duquesne (4-1), which continues tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center, was called.

"They've always been on TV, except for this one,'' Blair said when asked if he used to go to the games. "But I'm looking forward to this game. It should be a lot of fun. It's a good rivalry for the whole city, and I've been watching them since they started it. So, it's a fun rivalry.

"What do they call it? The Backyard Brawl or something like that? Oh, the City Game. Well, it's a good rivalry, and last year's game was fun. They're right down the street from us. They bring our fans, and our fans are here. So, it's going to be electrifying in here.''

Pitt, ranked third nationally this week, edged the Dukes 73-68 last season. That competitive game put a little fire back into the intra-city rivalry, which is perpetuated throughout the summer, as the Pitt and Duquesne players compete in the pro-am league together.

That makes it somewhat of a friendly rivalry, compared to say, the Backyard Brawl with West Virginia. However, redshirt sophomore forward Gilbert Brown believes that it's every bit as big as the one with the Mountaineers.

"I wouldn't say it's as mean as the West Virginia rivalry or bigger, but it's our inner-city rivalry,'' Brown said. "So, it's just as big. They're right down the street, so we want to make sure that we go out there and show something when we play against them.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been part of the City Game rivalry for nearly a decade now as an assistant and head coach with the Panthers, and he believed the matchup has evolved somewhat over the years.

"Duquesne, it's a good rivalry, and the kids all know each other,'' Dixon said. "But that's pretty common in our conference. We know a lot of the guys on each team because we've seen them in high school and recruited them.

"I think it's probably a little different than it used to be back in the day, but the familiarity with the players is the same. It's a rivalry that's a little different than some, but it's an in-state rivalry. And those are always important.''

The Dukes have developed an up-tempo style of play since Ron Everhart took over several years ago, but a key component is the play from senior point guard Aaron Jackson. He's a four-year starter that former Duquesne coach Danny Nee brought to the bluff.

Brown noted that Jackson is the Dukes' best and most-experienced player, as Duquesne has eight scholarship freshmen and 12 underclassmen.

"He can handle the ball, and he can score for them,'' Brown said. "During the summer league, we play against them. And in the open gym in the summer, they come here or we go down there. So, it's very competitive between the two schools, I would say, and I think we're going to be ready for this game.

"(And) Melquan Bolding, he was on my team in the summer. He's a young kid (a freshman), but he's a good athlete. I don't know how much he's playing for them, but he's pretty good. He'll be a good player for them.''

"I think we're going to be ready for this game,'' Brown said. "Hopefully, we'll have a better outcome than last year when we kept it so close.''

Coach Jamie Dixon also had great respect for Jackson.

"He kind of was an unheralded guy, but I just liked how hard he played,'' Dixon said. "They didn't know his position, but he really plays hard. ... When you play hard and work hard, you'll improve your game. And that's what has happened to Aaron. He's really improved, and he's a good player for them.

"We were just talking about all that he does for them. ... They're small, and they try to use their quickness. They like to push the ball up the court and take quick shots, and they try to force turnovers. I don't know if it's changed too much, but it matters who you play against.''

Duquesne sophomore forward David Theis will miss the game against Pitt due to a bruised kidney.

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