Nov. 30, 2011
Taylor made a pretty compelling case to get it back on Wednesday night against crosstown rival Duquesne, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds as the 17th-ranked Panthers bulled their way to an 80-69 victory in the annual City Game.
"At shootaround, Coach told me that he wasn't going to start me and I was prepared to come off the bench with energy," Taylor said.
He provided it and more as the Panthers (6-1) beat the Dukes (4-3) for the 11th straight time to extend the longest winning streak by one team in a series that dates to 1932.
Taylor made all six of his shots from the field while posting his first double-double in over a year.
Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 18 points, including three critical second-half 3-pointers to quell two late Duquesne rallies.
"I thought every time we had them in trouble, they were able to convert with a big 3," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said.
The Panthers needed them after turning the ball over a whopping 23 times, their third-highest total ever under coach Jamie Dixon.
Point guard Travon Woodall's eventful night included nine points, seven assists, six turnovers and some pain after getting smacked in the face with the ball before leaving in the final minutes with a leg injury.
Dixon pointed to his team's inability to take its time as the main problem. Pitt had little problem breaking Duquesne's press. The trouble began when the halfcourt offense would break down.
"I thought we had a lot more in the second half in the half court trying to be patient but not doing a good job of it," he said.
The Panthers survived anyway by making 11 of 21 3-pointers and gobbling up nearly every missed shot. Pitt outrebounded Duquesne 39-15 and gave up just three offensive boards.
"We definitely talked about it in the locker room and throughout practice the whole week, that we were going bigger and more physical, height-wise and more athletic," Taylor said. "We just had to use that during the game."
The turning point, however, came on a play in which the Dukes had their hands on a rebound and let it get away.
Duquesne trailed by 11 points at halftime but kept making mini-surges, getting as close as 50-46 on a jumper by Mamadou Datt with just over 13 minutes to go.
Pitt's Nasir Robinson converted a layup at the other end to put the Panthers back up by six. He drew the foul but missed the ensuing free throw. The Dukes deflected the ball out of bounds back to Pitt, and Gibbs drilled a deep 3-pointer off the inbounds to extend the lead to 55-46.
"It was a four-point game and 3, 4 seconds later it was a nine-point game," Everhart said. "I thought that was a tough deal for us."
Sean Johnson led Duquesne with 19 points and T.J. McConnell had 15 points, four steals and three assists.
The Dukes shot 52 percent from the field but still couldn't find a way to beat the Panthers for the first time since 2000 despite playing in front of a record Consol Energy Center crowd of 15,880.
"I don't think we played as tough or as intelligently tonight as we're capable," Everhart said.
Then again, the Panthers' size and depth made it difficult. Led by Taylor, Pitt's reserves outscored Duquesne's 34-16.
Coming off the bench wasn't something Taylor planned on, but Birch played so well after Taylor went out with migraines Dixon opted to keep him in the starting lineup.
Taylor had no problem with the decision. He was more concerned about the painful migraines that popped up after getting hit in the head twice last week.
"I've never had an issue with migraine headaches," Taylor said. "I think it was just that I hit my head twice in that game. It just flared up and wouldn't go away for a couple of days."
The pain is gone, and perhaps so is Birch from the starting lineup. He finished with two points, five rebounds and a block in 13 minutes, spending most of the second half on the bench watching Taylor go to work.
"It definitely was a confidence-builder, just piggybacking off the last game I played before the two I missed," he said. "I was able to come out and play with energy."
The Dukes played well in a season-opening loss at then-No. 16 Arizona three weeks ago and hoped to make a statement by knocking off the Panthers for the first time in over a decade. There have been some near misses recently, including a double-overtime loss two years ago.
Everhart stressed his team would have to be competitive on the backboards to win, a problem for a team that starts three guards and had been getting out-rebounded by 10 a game coming in.
Things got worse against the Panthers. Pitt's frontcourt swallowed up nearly every missed shot with ease forcing the Dukes to rely on turnovers to keep it close.
Close, however, never really came competitive. The Dukes were unable to get within a possession over the game's final 30 minutes as the Panthers secured bragging rights in the city once again.