Starkey: That’s more like it, Pitt
How fitting that Pitt’s ultimate basketball bully, DeJuan Blair, was sitting behind the Panthers’ bench Sunday afternoon.
Blair’s old team turned back the clock — crashing the boards, pushing people around and sharing the basketball brilliantly — on its way to a 76-62 bludgeoning of defending national champion Duke.
This was the signature win Pitt craved. This went straight to the top of the resume. And the bludgeoning didn’t stop after the final buzzer, either.
Jamel Artis, who scored a team-high 17 points, jumped in on a question asked of teammate Chris Jones about whether it was special to beat Duke.
“Duke is a good team,” Artis said, “but we’re a better team.”
I followed up with Artis in the hallway. He didn’t exactly back away from his comment.
“We’re tougher than them; we’re smarter than them,” he said. “If we play defense like we did today, no team in the ACC can beat us.”
Hmmm. A rematch in the ACC Tournament might be interesting, no?
On this day, though, Pitt deserved to crow. Coach Jamie Dixon took a shot at his critics.
“I kept saying, ‘We’re getting better, we’re getting better,’ and people were laughing at me,” Dixon said, later adding, “We’re playing our best basketball right now.”
It took all year to beat a ranked opponent, but Pitt now is almost assured of an NCAA Tournament bid. If it can finish with victories at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, the record won’t look too bad: 22-8 overall, 11-7 in the ACC.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was highly complimentary of Pitt and the raucous crowd. He acknowledged his team didn’t look especially “hungry” and added, “We might have played great and not beaten them.”
What he failed to acknowledge was that star guard Grayson Allen shouldn’t have played. Or at least not started. Allen has become the ACC’s serial tripper. His second such incident occurred Thursday when he stuck out a leg on Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Krzyzewski, in his first public comments since the ACC passed on suspending Allen, explained that he spoke with Allen (man, that’s harsh), called Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton to apologize and said to the ACC, “This is what we’ve done. You tell us what to do.”
Wait, this is Duke, right? Duke doesn’t wait for people tell it what to do. Krzyzewski could have done whatever he wanted. He should have done the right thing. One incident deserves a reprimand. Two deserves a suspension — especially, one would think, at Duke, where the coach himself has said, “Values are never compromised.”
Hey, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon suspended one of his players, Diamond Stone, for a game on account of a dirty play (pushing an opponent’s head onto the court during a scrum).
Krzyzewski said what Allen received — whatever it was — was the “stiffest reprimand a player has gotten in our conference this season.”
I wondered what constitutes a stiff reprimand.
“I said it was the only (reprimand),” Krzyzewski said. “I could say it’s the softest one. I could say it’s just a reprimand. It’s neutral. In other words, whatever adjective you’d like to use for reprimand, you can use.”
OK, I’ll go with “weak.”
I’m guessing Duke, however, will be plenty strong by NCAA Tournament time, especially if injured forward Amile Jefferson returns.
Pitt will go as far as its best players — James Robinson, Artis, Michael Young — take it. All three have responded big-time after that three-game losing streak. Since then, Pitt survived a near-death experience against Wake Forest, won at Syracuse, lost a quality game to Louisville and hammered Duke.
Young has 47 points and 35 rebounds in those games. Artis has 70 points and 32 rebounds and finally is getting to the foul line again. Robinson’s the ring leader. After a month-long shooting slump, he has 61 points, 24 assists, 18 rebounds and just four turnovers in the past four games.
Dixon removed Robinson to a standing ovation with 28 seconds left on Senior Day.
“A very special moment for me,” Robinson said.
It was a special day all around. A reminder of what Pitt was and could be again.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.