PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh student section spent a full hour before Monday night’s game against Duke trying to get into the Blue Devils’ heads.
They roared during warmups, cheering every missed jump shot. They shook the stands during player introductions. They let out a year’s worth of anticipation every time someone dressed in blue touched the ball during a raucous opening 10 minutes.
Playing Duke is new for Pitt. Playing the role of the bad guy is nothing new for the Blue Devils.
Jabari Parker scored 21 points, Andre Dawkins tied a season-high with 20 and No. 17 Duke pulled away from the 18th-ranked Panthers, 80-65.
“This is one of our youngest teams so they’ve had to learn under fire and (Monday) we played very well and we played with a lot of poise,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “(Pitt is) really good. We play again, we may not beat them, but (Monday) we did because we had that poise.”
And they had Dawkins.
The fifth-year senior made 6 of 7 3-point attempts, including three straight during a decisive 15-3 run in the second half that put the Blue Devils in front to stay.
“We knew he could shoot,” Pitt guard Lamar Patterson said. “He hit a couple tough ones and that gets you going. Unfortunately we left him open, that wasn’t smart.”
Amile Jefferson chipped in a season-high 14 points for Duke (17-4, 6-2 ACC), which brought the Panthers’ hot start in their first ACC season to an abrupt halt. The Blue Devils made 13 of 25 3-point attempts to hand Pitt (18-3, 6-2) its first loss at home.
“Our breakdowns were often, early and continued throughout the second half,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said.
Patterson, in the midst of a breakout season, struggled. He scored 14 points on just 4-of-14 shooting, most of the points coming late in the second half when things were getting out of hand.
Parker helped Duke fend off some early game jitters before Dawkins poured it on. The senior, who sat out last year for personal reasons, needed only 15 minutes to give the Blue Devils the jolt they needed to win their fifth straight.
The Panthers have strolled through their first month in the ACC, their only setback a four-point loss to fellow Big East refugee Syracuse. They have posted road wins at N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Maryland, but the Blue Devils constituted a significant step up in class.
It’s a step Pitt didn’t quite look prepared for on a night the Panthers gave up a season-high in points. The Panthers were well within range on a night Patterson struggled while facing constant harassment from Duke’s Rodney Hood, drawing within 52-51 on two free throws when the Blue Devils took off.
Dawkins slipped through the lane for a tip-in to get going. Quinn Cook followed with a 3-pointer. Dawkins responded by knocking down a 3 on each of Duke’s next three trips down the court, including a 25-foot heave at the shot clock buzzer. The final jumper made it 67-54 with 5:32 left and seemed to take all the life out of a record crowd at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt never drew within single digits the rest of the way.
“Sitting out last year and having to go through the things he went through and to come back, I’m so happy for him,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re the beneficiaries of his great play.”
Parker wasn’t too bad either, grabbing 11 rebounds to set a Duke freshman record with his 12th double-double of the season and accepted congratulations from his teammates as the final seconds ticked off and the crowd headed out into the bitter cold night, a decisive end to a game that featured eight ties and nine lead changes over the first 25 minutes.
“He’s playing lights out, especially with the way he’s rebounding, “ Krzyzewski said.
With members of the “Oakland Zoo” – some of whom had camped overnight – producing small tremors every time the Blue Devils had the ball in their hands, the Panthers controlled stretches of the first half but missed an opportunity to bury Duke early by missing a handful of shots in the lane.
During one sequence Pitt grabbed four offensive rebounds but failed to convert.
Parker didn’t let the reprieve go to waste. The versatile forward did a little bit of everything to get the Blue Devils back in it, with a dozen NBA scouts in the front row getting an eyeful. He dunked twice, hit two 3-pointers and even put together a nifty up-and-under move that drew two Panthers off their feet before he laid it in.
The result was a 34-32 halftime lead for Duke that Pitt could never quite take back.
“We wanted to win, we knew the hype was there ... we (saw) the crowd,” Patterson said. “The good thing was it wasn’t the end of the season.”