A then-season-low 52 points and a fourth straight loss. A nationally-televised embarrassment on its home floor.
Pittsburgh has now lost six straight games, and will be looking to avenge its 35-point defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils when the two clash for the second time in just 11 days.
No. 5 Duke will host the floundering Panthers Saturday at 4 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium and look to improve to 10-0 at home this season. Pittsburgh comes to Durham desperate to turn its season around after reaching a new low in its last game, struggling to score just 45 points in Tuesday’s defeat at Syracuse.
Duke, on the other hand, is running like a well-oiled machine, the loss to N.C. State Jan. 6 having seemingly served as a wake-up call for the Blue Devil defense. After giving up 189 points in a two-game span, Duke has allowed just 52, 71 and 75 points in its last three games, including yet another come-from-behind victory against a ranked opponent in Miami.
“Coach was just telling us to calm down. We’ve been in that position before where we’re down and trying to fight back into the game, so we know how it is,” freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III said. “He just told us to play like men instead of playing like kids.”
Duke (16-2, 4-2 in the ACC) will look to keep up the defensive pressure against a Pittsburgh team that has been nothing short of anemic on the offensive end. The Panthers (8-11, 0-6) have scored fewer than 55 points in their last three games, and they have only cracked 60 against an ACC opponent once. Their ACC-worst 15.1 turnovers per game have not helped their cause.
Pittsburgh’s leading scorer and rebounder, 6-foot-9 forward Ryan Luther, was absent when the Blue Devils visited the Petersen Events Center earlier in the month after sustaining a serious foot injury. Bad turned to worse the following day when it was announced that Luther would miss the rest of the season. Duke will look to take advantage of the big man’s absence on the boards again—there are three remaining Panthers measuring 6-foot-9 or taller, and none of them grab more than 2.6 rebounds per game.
In their last meeting, Duke relied on a balanced offensive attack, with each of its five starters scoring between 10 and 16 points and redshirt sophomore forward Justin Robinson adding another 10 off the bench. Pittsburgh only had two players register double figures.
Duke’s 3-point shooting has received a sizable boost recently from breakout performances by freshman Gary Trent Jr. The young guard exploded for a career-high 30 points against Miami, more than double his season average. He shot 6-of-9 from deep, including a bank shot at the buzzer to end the first half, after going 6-of-7 from 3-point range in his previous game against Wake Forest. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had high praise for the 18-year-old after the game.
“He’s worked hard all year, but in the last week and a half, he’s shooting the ball quicker, and thank goodness. He was sick as can be against Wake,” Krzyzewski said. “These kids, you need to try to get them into a groove, and boy, he came through for us tonight and his teammates.”
Pittsburgh’s perimeter defense has been solid of late, allowing five or fewer threes in six of its last seven games. The Blue Devils, however, were able to crack the Panthers’ defense and knock down 12 shots from deep in their last matchup. Trent will be looking to stay hot and help his team continue to scorch Pittsburgh on the offensive end.
Although Krzyzewski is satisfied with Duke’s recent play, he emphasized the importance of taking it game-by-game and learning from each matchup to develop his young team into championship contenders.
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“We’re getting better. We just have to keep getting better. I’m not interested in rankings, standings or anything,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m just interested in us trying to win the next game and see if we can get better no matter who it’s against.”
Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.