They can’t all be winners…

As a regular contributor to this blog, I couldn’t wait for the chance to write about theCity Game–that is, the annual men’s basketball game between Duquesne and Pitt.  Since I arrived at Duquesne in ’07, Pitt had won both games against us–the first year at Duquesne, the second year at Pitt.  But this year’s game was special; it would be the last college basketball game ever to be played at the soon-to-be-demolished Mellon Arena.

I couldn’t wait to write about this because of how ecstatic I would be after we won.  I had memories of Duquesne’s upset over then-#9 ranked Xavier last year, detailing my chance to scream my lungs out and storm the court with my friends, living every college basketball fan’s dream.

Except I kind of forgot that we might not actually beat Pitt. Final score-Pitt 67, Duquesne 58, in 2OT.  Like most losses, it wasn’t losing that hurt the most.  It was the way we lost.

At halftime, the Dukes were cruising, up 33-20.  The three pointers were falling like raindrops, and Damian Saunders was swatting shots like nobody’s business.  But come the second half, the officials, who had swallowed the whistles most of the first half, decided to call a much tougher game, and the Dukes were the direct recipients of most of their wrath.  Foul after foul went against Duquesne; that, coupled with red-hot Pitt shooting and a long cold streak from the Dukes, allowed the Panthers to claw (pun intended) their way back into the game.  After Pitt missed a shot near the buzzer, the game was sent into its first overtime.

The energy was unlike many games I’ve attended.  While Duquesne was the home team, it was clear this was more of a “neutral site” game.  The number of Dukes fans and Panthers fans were nearly equal, each student section trying to outdo the other.  Even though it was early in the year, and even though Pitt and Duquesne don’t play in the same conference, this felt like a tournament game.  For Duquesne, a win meant finally taking down the big bullies in town for the first time in nine  years.  Lose, and Goliath would have another long, arduous year of bragging rights.

But in the second overtime, it quickly became clear that Duquesne simply had nothing left in the tank.  With the team’s top two big men, Saunders and Rodrigo Peggau, both fouled out, Pitt drove the lane at will; meanwhile, Duquesne’s shooters couldn’t get free without the threat of a low-post player to keep the Pitt defense honest.  After lighting it up in the first half, Duquesne scored a total of five points in the two overtime periods, allowing Pitt to take control.

There’s nothing more difficult as a sports fan than leaving a game at your “home court” with the opposing team’s fans chanting “This is our house!”  Well, aside from beings a Browns fan.  That’s pretty rough.  But you get what I mean.

But the one positive I took frm the game (aside from how thrilling it was, in spite of its poor outcome) was how fired up the hardcore Dukes fans and the alumni were.  I’ve only watched two years of Duquesne hoops so far, but in that time alone, the fan’s perception and relationship with the team has improved remarkably.  Two years ago, my friends and I joked our way through any game where Duquesne played a semi-difficult opponent; now, we expect our team to win these games.  In a way, the disappointment proved how much Duquesne cares about its team, which is incredible given how awful the team was just three or four seasons ago.

It’s early in the year.  In the grand scheme of things, this loss is far from our biggest game of the year.  But maybe having the bitter taste of this defeat lingering in the Dukes’ mouths will get them fired up and ready for the remainder of a difficult schedule.

-Matt

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