After one of its worst defensive performances of the season at N.C. State, Duke wanted to make a statement in its next game.
On Wednesday it did just that. The Blue Devils raced out to a 10-0 lead over Pittsburgh through the game’s first four minutes and kept their foot on the gas pedal.
By halftime, they led by 26. The second half was much more competitive, but Duke still won 87-52.
It was the Blue Devils’ first road win in conference play this season. On Dec. 9, Duke lost to Boston College 89-84 in Boston, and lost to N.C. State this past Saturday in Raleigh, 96-85.
Defense was a factor in both of those games, but not on Wednesday night.
Through the first 20 minutes of the game, No. 7 Duke (14-2, 2-2 ACC) forced 11 turnovers, and Pitt (8-9, 0-4 ACC) shot 37.5 percent from the floor. Pitt’s 24 first-half points was the second fewest points that Duke has given up at halftime. The fewest was 18 points against Evansville.
The Panthers rank at the bottom of the ACC. They are the only team without a conference win.
Duke’s players were more animated than usual. They yelled when they made a defensive stop. And after one offensive possession early in the game, the players slapped the floor, a staple for some of Duke’s best defensive teams.
Duke’s starting lineup is young, with four freshmen and one senior. Pitt is even younger, with five freshmen starters for the third straight game.
Its best player, Ryan Luther, a 6-9, 225-pound senior forward, was out for the third straight game with a foot injury.
Duke was also dealing with injuries. Its two top reserves, sophomore center Marques Bolden and sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier, sat out Wednesday’s game. DeLaurier has a tight hamstring, an injury he has faced for the majority of his season, and Bolden sustained a MCL sprain in a recent practice.
Still, the show had to go on.
Duke opened up the first half with an alley-oop dunk from freshman point guard Trevon Duval to freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. It looked as if the Blue Devils might continue to run away with the game, but Pitt battled.
They double-teamed freshman forward Marvin Bagley III and Carter any time they touched the ball in the post.
Pitt reduced the lead to 17 points but never got closer than that.
Bagley finished with 16 points (7-for-16) and 15 rebounds. It was his 13th double-double of the season, which is tied for second in the country. Grayson Allen, who had struggled shooting in Duke’s previous three conference games, struggled again from the field. He finished with 11 points and was 4-for-12 from the floor. He was 2-for-9 from behind the 3-point line.
Duval and freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. had 14 points each.