Pitt out-toughs Duke at Cameron

The Panthers won at Cameron for the first time since 1979

Pittsburgh's Blake Hinson (2) reacts after a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

DURHAM — Blake Hinson had just led his Pitt Panthers to an 80-76 upset of No. 7 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but his night wasn’t quite over yet.

Hinson, who had set a school record by going 7 for 7 from 3-point range, most of them punctuated by wild screams at the Cameron Crazies student section, teammates or the ceiling, charged toward the mass of blue paint and frustration in the student section. He leaped up onto the press table in front of them and shouted, pounding his chest and blowing a kiss goodbye.

“First of all, no disrespect,” Hinson said after the game. “This is one of the hardest places in the nation to win. That was just an example of you climbing Mount Everest, and you’re looking at it from up top and saying, ‘I did it.’ It’s nothing but respect. You can get mad at it. That’s your opinion, but the way I look at it, it’s respect to them.”

The Blue Devils did get mad at it, although not necessarily because of what Hinson did as much as what they allowed him to do.

“I want to apologize to our fans,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said at the start of his postgame remarks. “What happened at the end, that can’t happen. That’s on us and that’s unacceptable.”

He then concluded his remarks by bringing it up again. “I just want to apologize to our fans one more time,” he said. “That was not OK, that’s on us, we’re gonna fix it. We’re gonna get better.”

The loss came just 11 days after Duke won by 22 in Pittsburgh. Duke dominated inside in that game, outrebounding the Panthers 42-26 and winning the battle of points in the paint by a 32-12 margin.

Roles were reversed in the rematch. Pitt doubled up Duke in rebounding in the first half, 20-10, and won the rebounding battle by seven in the game. They outscored Duke 32-18 in the paint.

“We weren’t as tough,” said Ryan Young. With starters Mark Mitchell and Jeremy Roach on the bench in street clothes due to injuries, the reserve big man played an emotional 26 minutes, scoring six points with four rebounds and two blocks. In a game where some members of the team played like their NIL deposit hadn’t cleared yet, Young showed heart and desire, throwing himself on the floor and limping up court after taking a variety of blows in a punishing game under the basket. With effort and emotion, he and Hinson left a trail of skin and slobber across the Cameron floor.

Scheyer didn’t pull any punches about his team’s lack of effort and grit.

“I thought we came out passive,” he said. “We weren’t ready at the level we needed to be. … That’s not who we are, that’s not who we’ve been. I think rebounding a lot of the time comes down to will and mindset, and we didn’t have that. But we’re gonna have it.”

Scheyer refused to use his injured starters as an excuse or the defeat. “That has to become who we are, regardless who’s in the lineup or who’s not. Does it change our team not having Jeremy or Mark in there? Of course it does, but that can’t impact how you rebound. It can’t impact how you defend. And it can’t impact how you compete. At the end of the day, that’s on us.”

Duke taking a foot off the gas allowed Hinson to speed past them, leaving the Blue Devils scrambling to match his intensity. He hit 3s on the run, off of screens, off the dribble, and one while leaning and twisting. Two of his 3s gave Pitt the lead, and he opened Pitt’s scoring in both halves with 3-pointers. He also urged on his teammates — and the opposing fans — with a constant stream of guttural roars that sent saliva flying.

“He was terrific,” said Pitt coach Jeff Capel. “I thought for the most part, he had poise. He got revved up there a little bit. We’ve got to try to get him back to neutral. But he loves these types of environments.”

The win was Pitt’s first at Cameron since 1979 and Capel’s first over Scheyer.

“It was a fight,” Capel said. “Our guys had poise and toughness. We weren’t afraid of the moment. We weren’t afraid of the environment.”

“You have to be tough and together to have a chance here,” he added.

Tough and together — two characteristics that were lacking in the home team, as the visitors climbed to the mountaintop, then jumped onto the press table.