It has been some ride for the Dukes to start 2016-2017. The first two months of the season have been filled with so much swayed emotion. Not too many teams deal with the Dukes went through in a whole season, let alone 11 games.
Obviously, the most memorable moment of those first 11 games was the victory in the City Game. Finally after 15 long years, the Dukes were able to seize the opportunity against an undermanned Pitt squad. But surrounding their upset win over the Panthers is a season of heartbreak.
The Dukes have lost three times this season when they led with 15 seconds left in the games. Canisius was able to win on a bucket with less than 2 seconds left. UT Martin silenced the Palumbo with a buzzer beater on Thanksgiving Eve. RMU fought off the Dukes in the final seconds of their showdown at PPG days after the upset over Pitt.
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Though they could be sitting at 10-3, but the 7-6 Dukes have found some success as of late. Winners of three of their last four, the Dukes are riding high heading into A-10 conference play. Let’s take a look at the key story lines from the first half of the season.
Coming into this season, Jim Ferry’s latest recruiting class was hyped by fans as one of the best in some time. So far, the new kids on the Bluff have lived up to expectations.
Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike were forced to grow up fast in their first year on the Bluff. Ferry elected to start the freshmen to begin the season, marking the first time two freshmen have started for the Dukes in over a decade. After an up and down few games, both are showing their potential for greatness.
The pair has combined for five A-10 Rookie of the Weeks (Lewis 3 Mike 2). With Mike’s honor this past week (scored a career high 19 points versus Colgate), it was the first time two Duquesne freshmen to win the award in multiple weeks in a season. Lewis currently leads the Dukes in scoring with 11.8 PPG while Mike is averging 10.2 PPG and 5.7 REB per game.
The other top recruit from this recruiting class, Spencer Littleson, has seen his minutes drop over the past few games. Littleson is averaging 2.6 PPG in 12.8 minutes off the bench and did not appear in the win over Colgate.
Though the freshmen may be getting much of the headlines to begin the year, the transfers for the Dukes have been no slouches either. Nebraska transfer Tarin Smith and Niagara graduate transfer Emile Blackman have created quite the backcourt.
Smith was slowed to begin this season after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. As the season has progressed, he has looked stronger and explosive on the court. He sits just behind Lewis for the team lead in points while leading the team in assists.
For Blackman, he may not be averaging the 15 PPG he put up last season with Niagara, but he’s contributing for the Dukes in other ways. It is clear that Blackman is the leader out on the floor, encouraging his teammates and getting them focus. He should improve upon his 10.2 PPG during conference play.
The Dukes other graduate transfer, Kale Abrahamson, recently returned to the lineup after breaking his hand in the preseason. Abrahamson range from three will be critical off the bench as conference time begins. The Drake transfer has gone 4-7 from beyond the arch in 34 minutes over four games.
Surging with Sanders
The turning point in the Dukes season in my view happened when Ferry made the decision to start sophomore Nakye Sanders. Ferry began the season with 6’11 senior Darius Lewis in the lineup at center. Despite showing flashes of improvement, Lewis’ limited ability bogs down the Dukes. In games started by the senior, the team is 3-6.
On the flip side, the Dukes are 4-0 with Sanders in the starting lineup. Though he has yet to find a consistent shot this season (5.3 PPG), the sophomore has been a junkyard dog on the glass. With seemingly no care for his well-being, Sanders will scratch and crawl for every rebound on both ends of the floor. He is only averaging 6 rebounds per game but look for the number to grow as we head deeper into the season.