No. 2 Pittsburgh 73, Duquesne 56
PITTSBURGH – Aaron Gray had 15 points and 12 rebounds despite an off shooting night and No. 2 Pittsburgh quickly built a 20-point lead against shootings-depleted city rival Duquesne before easing to a 73-56 victory Wednesday night.
The 7-foot Gray, shooting nearly 70 percent for the season, missed seven of 13 shots but was too much for a Duquesne team that is down to nine scholarship players following the on-campus shooting of five players in September.
With reserve forwards Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young each scoring 10 points against the undersized Dukes, Pitt improved to 9-0 for the fifth straight season, and a fourth consecutive time under coach Jamie Dixon.
Mike Cook added 11 points for Pitt, which has won its last 20 games against non-conference opponents.
Despite Robert Mitchell’s 13 points and Stephen Wood’s 12, Duquesne (2-5) shot only 38 percent (20-of-52) while losing its fifth in a row after winning its first two games under new coach Ron Everhart. Duquesne is 0-3 during a difficult stretch in which it plays at home only once in nine games until Jan. 10.
It was the first Duquesne-Pitt game since the Sept. 17 shootings at a party students from both schools attended, so Pitt students did not boo the Duquesne players as they normally do opposing teams. Most wore red ribbons as a show of support for its neighboring rival. The universities are two miles apart and the student bodies often hang out in same locations.
The only time the Pitt student body that rings the court jeered the Dukes was when forward Kieron Achara, playing his first game of the season, fouled out late in the game.
For the first time this season, Sam Ashaolu — the Duquesne player who nearly died in the shootings — sat on the team bench. Still receiving outpatient treatment and therapy for two gunshot wounds to the head, Ashaolu previously sat in a private box or in the stands.
Despite getting a motivational lift from having Ashaolu back with the team, it was too much for the depleted Dukes to stay with one of the country’s deepest and most talented teams.
Rotating players regularly, the Panthers quickly opened a 15-5 lead in slightly more than three minutes and upped the lead to 30-10 halfway through the first half.
Pitt has won eight of its last nine and 25 of the last 28 in a matchup known locally as the City Game. Duquesne last defeated the Panthers in 2000 and, because of the growing one-sidedness of the rivalry and the circumstances, the atmosphere was more muted than at any of Pitt’s six previous home games.
The player who gave undersized Duquesne the biggest problem early was the 6-8 Biggs, who presented a difficult matchup problem and scored eight points within several minutes of entering the game.
Duquesne, scrapping for loose balls and pushing to beat the taller Panthers downcourt whenever possible, got within 47-37 in the second half. But Gray hit two free throws and Biggs scored inside as Pitt scored the next six points, and the Dukes could not make another push.
Duquesne played a No. 2 team for the fifth time in school history and the first since 1988, when Pitt also was second-ranked. The Dukes have beaten a No. 2 team only once, Saint Bonaventure in 1961.