Duquesne hoping to make statement against Panthers
Sean Johnson watched the steady stream of teammates bolt the
Duquesne basketball program last spring following a power struggle
with former coach Ron Everhart and made a promise to himself to not
abandon the program.
”Guys left, I stayed,” the senior guard said. ”I didn’t want
to leave. I didn’t want to go through all that.”
Besides, Johnson felt there was still too much work to be done,
beating Pittsburgh near the top of the list.
Johnson will get his final crack at the Panthers on Wednesday in
the 81st edition of the City Game as the Dukes try to end an
11-year losing streak to their crosstown rivals.
”I really want to go out and win,” Johnson said. ”Everybody
is going to have to be on point. I just can’t win it by
Probably not a good idea considering Johnson would basically be
going one-on-10. The Panthers (7-1) have cruised through the first
month of the season behind a deep bench and the precocious play of
freshman point guard James Robinson, who is flourishing despite
logging a team-high 30 minutes a game.
”We thought he’d be good (but) he’s probably better than what
we thought,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
A welcome development for a program that lost its way last
winter when guard Tray Woodall went down with an abdominal injury
in an 80-69 victory over the Dukes. Woodall missed nine of the next
10 games and Pitt stumbled its way out of the NCAA tournament
picture for the first time in over a decade.
”It’s rare that (a point guard goes down) and when it does,
you’ve got to be in position and we weren’t in position and I knew
before going into the season,” Dixon said. ”This year we’ve got
James who is a seasoned veteran as a freshman. He’s got a great
understanding of the game.”
Even if Robinson, who is from the Washington, D.C. suburbs, is
still gaining an understanding for what the annual matchup with the
Dukes means to his new city.
”We’re going to prepare as if we were playing a team that has
won many times against us,” Robinson said.
Something the Dukes haven’t done since well before Robinson and
any of his teammates were born. Still, the game remains a vital
part of the nonconference schedule for both schools, a fact that
will not change even with Pitt going to the ACC next year and
Duquesne rebuilding under new coach Jim Ferry.
”This really isn’t about our RPI, it really isn’t about
scheduling,” Ferry said. ”It’s us against Pitt.”
A meeting that has been a rivalry in name only since 1981.
Still, there remains a sense of electricity when the programs face
each other. The game drew nearly 16,000 fans to Consol Energy
Center last winter and it remains a measuring stick of sorts for
”Sometimes people ask us, because we’ve won a few of the games
lately, why do you continue?”’ Dixon said. ”It’s because it’s the
right thing to do. You’re never bigger than an institution or a
tradition and I think we understand that and hopefully we can
continue to do that.”
Particularly if the Panthers can continue to win. There was a
time when things were the other way around, an era Ferry believes
can return even though the process might take awhile.
The Dukes were picked to finish last in the Atlantic 10 but have
won four out of their last five as Ferry’s players start to get
comfortable with his uptempo system. Ferry led LIU-Brooklyn to
back-to-back Northeast Conference titles and NCAA tournament
appearances in 2010 and 2011 but now finds himself tasked with
reshaping a program that met with moderate success under Everhart
before things imploded last spring.
Johnson and fellow senior Andre Marhold stuck around amid the
chaos and now find themselves as the elder statesmen on a team that
features seven freshmen or sophomores in the rotation. It’s not
exactly the way Johnson envisioned wrapping up his career. Then
again, things could be worse. He believes things are headed in the
right direction under Ferry, even if the actual process won’t be
completed until well after Johnson is gone.
”We’ve become more of a team,” Johnson said. ”Even the young
guys are getting confidence in themselves.”
Something that’s bound to spike if the Dukes can beat the
Panthers for only the second time this millennium. It’s not the end
goal of Ferry’s vision, but it would certainly be a start.
”We’ve got to grind this out and make this a better rivalry,”
Ferry said. ”We have to do our part. We want to play this game and
we want to win this game.”
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP