Friday night was a game Duquesne fans should cherish for years to come.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, at least for one night, Duquesne basketball was king in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t the Steelers, Penguins or Pirates. It was Duquesne basketball.
They beat Pitt. The City Game mattered again. The rivalry mattered again. They mattered again.
“It hasn’t been much of a rivalry lately, and from what we have been through this year, that just shows how hard these kids worked tonight,” coach Jim Ferry said.
The rivalry was supposed to re-ignite a year ago. The Dukes were older and on a hot streak. Pitt looked vulnerable. Instead, they were clobbered by 21 points.
This year they came in losers in four of their last five and with five different starters than a year ago. They were down by 10 in the first half and came back. Go figure.
Maybe this is the type of team that just plays to the level of their opponent. Maybe they were too young and stupid to realize that they were supposed to lose by 20.
For a defense that had found new and creative ways to lose in the second half for the last 12 months, their performance in the last 20 minutes may have been the best in the Ferry era. They got the most out of their guys.
“I think it’s really big for our team coming off a tough start this season, we really needed this.” sophomore guard Tarin Smith said. “We believed we would win, we know we are a really talented team and this is really big for us as far as confidence going forward.”
The Dukes and the school take this game seriously. Ferry said afterwards that he was happy to win this game for the players who always fell short against Pitt. Micah Mason took to Twitter to celebrate with his fellow Duke fans.
The school’s Union building has “Beat Pitt” written on it in soap on its windows. They were ready for this game, even if conventional wisdom said they did not have a chance.
It was easily their best turnout of the year. Everyone knows that this team is young and isn’t destined for greatness this year, but this was their Super Bowl. Pitt is the alpha target.
Pitt, on the other hand, has a lot of rivals. There are old ones like Syracuse, some dormant but ready to reignite foes like West Virginia, and then the rest of the very demanding ACC. Duquesne is just another grudge game, and it’s more due to proximity and tradition rather than competitiveness.
Can you blame them? Pitt had won 15 in a row by an average of more than 16 points a game. Pitt makes regular trips to the Dance while Duquesne has one NIT berth since 1995. The freshmen in the Zoo Friday night were three years old the last time Duquesne won. Michael Young was in first grade. A win in the City Game was a Panther fan’s birthright since the Reagan administration.
That was until the Duquesne student section ran onto the court. Who cares if Artis was out? Who cares if a lot of bounces went their way? A win’s a win.
And it was in front of a full student section. You can tell that it was the first game for a lot of them too. When the pep band started singing “You’re not gonna make it” when a Panther stepped to the free-throw line, plenty of the greenhorns sang “take it” instead. Sometimes the chants felt like going to a midnight screening of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” when people screw up the call backs, but like “Rocky,” the important thing is having fun.
The student section has been mostly empty this year. A good chunk of their home games so far were during Thanksgiving break, but there have been times when you did not have to take off your socks and shoes to count how many students were in attendance. The pep band and the poor Kramer head cutout can get lonely this time of year.
But they came out and were loud. Whether it was them chanting that they had “Dukes out for Harambe” or giving Pitt a culinary suggestion, they were hyped from start to finish.
It’s the type of win that can keep a fan warm through what should be some rough winter months once A10 play starts. The Dukes could go winless and it would not matter to some. They’re in the black and playing with house money.
On the other hand, this is their chance to reestablish themselves as a legitimate program.
Like I said earlier and will be saying throughout the course of the year, this is a very young team. They started four underclassmen Friday and will likely be going with at least two or three all year. Wins and losses in a lot of these games are not as important as just improving.
But if there is another “big” game on their schedule, it’s Tuesday. They are returning to PPG Paints for their “other” City Game against Robert Morris. If they win, they have bragging rights over both programs and are getting media attention for their performance rather than being trapped on a bus.
They can prove that Duquesne basketball matters for more than just one night.