For the first time this year, Duke didn’t bring anything close to a winning effort.
The Blue Devils were thoroughly outplayed, in every aspect of the game, from start to finish in their 76-62 loss at Pittsburgh. Best news for Duke? It only counts for one in the loss column.
The confluence of events that led to the blowout didn’t leave coach Mike Krzyzewski overly surprised by the result. He saw the drained faces of his players during the second half of the 80-65 win over Florida State Thursday night. He knew Pitt was in search of a signature win for its NCAA tournament resume.
“I’ve been coaching so damn long. You’re always in anticipation of something like this,” Krzyzewski said. “It was just like we could not muster up anything today. And I was not able to help them do it. And so we’ve just got to put it behind us, and hats off and salute Pitt and get ready for Tuesday.”
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“We were out of character, that’s what I’ll say,” Krzyzewski added.
To be sure, Krzyzewski gave Pitt credit for playing “superb.”
“We might have played great tonight and not beaten them,” he said. “I’m not one to discredit a superb performance, and that Pitt team was terrific today.”
The Panthers came out like a bubble team eager to punch its NCAA tournament ticket. Previously, Pitt had been 0-6 in games against ranked teams, but the Panthers started 4-of-5 from the field and raced out to a 10-0 lead. The Blue Devils had three turnovers and went 0-for-3 from the field during that stretch.
Long-range shooting kept the Blue Devils in it early – their first five makes from the field were all 3s, and Duke didn’t hit a 2-point shot until there was 7:29 left in the first half. A jumper by freshman forward Brandon Ingram cut the lead to 29-19.
Emblematic of the difference in effort level between the two teams, Pitt beat Duke on both boards in the first 20 minutes. The Panthers collected nine offensive rebounds to Duke’s six defensive rebounds and 11 defensive rebounds to Duke’s four offensive boards.
And those advantages held up over the course of the full game: Pitt finished with 16 offensive rebounds to Duke’s 13 defensive rebounds and 23 defensive rebounds to the Blue Devils’ seven offensive boards.
“They just put it on us for 40 minutes, and we never really responded,” sophomore guard Grayson Allen said. “All the hustle stats, they got. Loose balls, rebounds, they were all theirs.”
The Blue Devils did cut the deficit to a more manageable 39-32 at halftime as the Panthers cooled from the field. But then back-to-back dunks from Pitt’s junior forward Michael Young, with the second one coming off of an Allen turnover, had the Panthers back up 43-32 and Krzyzewski calling timeout before the second half was two minutes old.
The Blue Devils managed to apply a few seconds of game pressure to the Panthers. After Allen knocked down two free throws, freshman guard Luke Kennard stole the ensuing inbounds pass and nailed a 3, cutting the Pitt lead to 58-48 with 10:10 left in the game.
But Ingram picked up his fourth foul on the next possession, and Pitt scored six points in the next 90 seconds. A 3 from Ryan Luther had it back at a 16-point lead, 64-48, with 8:14 left. Allen fell on Duke’s next possession, and his head landed over the out of bounds line for Duke’s 11th turnover of the day.
Pitt would cap that 11-0 run with a 3 from Panthers senior guard James Robinson to take its first 20-point lead, 69-48, with 7:08 left in a game that was already over.
“Obviously we didn’t come out of the locker room thinking that we weren’t going to have it,” Duke junior guard Matt Jones said. “It was just one of those days.”
“I hate days like these. We played satisfied, and we can’t do that because the season isn’t over yet.”