Welcome to the ACC.
No. 18 Pittsburgh went back and forth with No. 17 Duke at the Petersen Events Center for much of Monday night, but senior Andre Dawkins caught fire late in the second half to help the Blue Devils send the Oakland Zoo home unhappy with an 80-65 victory.
Both teams are now 6-2 in the conference. While it's a really impressive road victory in a hostile environment for the Blue Devils, who have shaken off a rough early January stretch with five straight wins, Yahoo! Sports' Brad Evans explains what it means for Pitt:
Blown opportunity by Pitt. Without a RPI top-50 win have to wonder where Panthers should be seeded properly. Thinking 6-7 line.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) January 28, 2014
Freshman phenom Jabari Parker was the story early on, as he poured in 16 first-half points. But he struggled to make much of an impact during the final 20 minutes, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, his third double-double in a row.
As he cooled off, though, Dawkins and sophomore Amile Jefferson heated up. Dawkins drained six of his seven three-point attempts—including four in the final eight minutes—on his way to 20 points, while Jefferson bullied Talib Zanna and Michael Young inside on his way to 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Rodney Hood added 13 points for Duke, but his biggest contribution was on the defensive end.
The Mississippi State transfer matched up with Panthers' leading scorer Lamar Patterson for much of the night, holding the senior to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting and five turnovers.
For about the first 30 minutes, it was a roller-coaster contest.
After Jamel Artis and Hood exchanged threes to close out the first half and Duke took a 34-32 lead into the locker room, both ESPN and Pittsburgh's Twitter feed noted just how close the teams were:
9 lead changes & 5 ties in the 1st half! Duke heads to the locker room with a 34-32 advantage over Pitt. #DUKEvsPITT— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 28, 2014
It was more of the same in the second half, as Patterson sunk a couple of free throws to make it 52-51 with 9:41 remaining.
But then Dawkins took over, scoring 11 quick points as part of a 15-3 Duke run over the next four minutes to quiet the crowd.
Grantland's Shane Ryan summed it up at that point:
ANDRE DAWKINS ONCE ATE A LIVE PANTHER— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) January 28, 2014
After falling behind by 15, Pitt cut the deficit back to 10 with 2:42 left, but a corner three from Dawkins—who else—officially put the game out of range
Krzyzewski spoke about the big win via the Associated Press: "This is one of our youngest teams so they've had to learn under fire and tonight we played very well and we played with a lot of poise. (Pitt is) really good. We play again, we may not beat them, but tonight we did because we had that poise."
Jabari Parker, Duke: B+
Remember when the standout freshman was going through a slump? Yeah, me neither.
Parker broke out of the slump with a 23-point effort against NC State, followed that up with double-doubles against Miami and Florida State, and looked tremendous once again for much of Monday night.
Showcasing his unbelievable versatility, Parker scored from the inside, scored on the break, and knocked down two shots from the outside. ESPN gave a look at one of his early baskets:
Jabari Parker attacking early and often, 9 of Duke's 16 points: http://t.co/q1m3jeeXBa— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 28, 2014
21 points on 19 shot attempts isn't quite as efficient as you'd like to see, and he struggled a bit in the second half, but Parker's aggressiveness and explosiveness, which have been key in busting his slump, were noticeable—and important—from the outset.
Lamar Patterson, Pitt: C
Patterson is underrated. He's a solid ACC Player of the Year candidate, and you could even make an argument for him to be included in National Player of the Year conversations, but he doesn't get the kind of attention he deserves.
Unfortunately, on the big stage with that attention finally on him, he struggled to just 14 points on 14 shots and five turnovers.
He found other ways to contribute—five rebounds, two steals—but it was a bad time for one of Patterson's worst games of the season.
Amile Jefferson, Duke: A
Jefferson wasn't heavily involved in Duke's offense, but his energy and ability to crash the boards were crucial for the Blue Devils.
Who was the player of the game?
The super-athletic big man finished with 10 rebounds, with six coming on the offensive glass. Off those six offensive rebounds, he scored five points while another two boards led to a Rodney Hood three-pointer and a Quinn Cook layup.
He also added a steal and two blocks.
Against a physical Pitt team that entered Monday night 15th best in the nation at keeping opposing teams off the offensive glass, per kenpom.com (subscription needed), it was a terrific night for Jefferson.
James Robinson, Pitt: B+
Robinson is the kind of player you want running your team. He doesn't score a lot—just 8.3 points per game on the season and 10 on Monday night—but he plays strong defense, passes extremely well and doesn't turn the ball over.
That was once again true for the smooth sophomore leader against Duke, as he finished with two steals, five assists and zero turnovers.
Pittsburgh remains home to host Virginia in a crucial ACC contest on Sunday, Feb. 2, while Duke finishes up its toughest two-game stretch of the regular season by traveling to New York to take on No. 2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
In other words, the top four teams in the conference will be battling it out this weekend.