PITTSBURGH, Pa. – For one night, everything clicked for the Duquesne Dukes.
Just three days after dropping the annual City Game matchup, Duquesne bounced back in a big way Monday night, thumping Maryland Eastern Shore, 86-61, at the AJ Palumbo Center. The Dukes posted season-highs in threes made (14), assists (18), and field goal percentage (48 percent).
The duo of Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams Jr. combined for 53 points, helping Duquesne (3-3) snap its three-game losing streak. Lewis II tied a career-mark with six made triples en route to scoring 29 points, and Williams Jr. added four made treys.
“The emphasis with our guys over the last week or eight days is we have to play harder,” head coach Keith Dambrot said after the win. “We have to play better together, and we have to play a little bit smarter. So we did a little bit better job.”
The Dukes put together their best half of the season in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 56 percent as a team and hitting six threes. They matched their season average for assists—eight per game—at the 3:47 mark. It was only the third time this season Duquesne has registered double-digit assists.
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Tied at five, Lewis II hit his second three-pointer of the game, and the Dukes were off and running. They would score 22 of the game’s next 26 points, building a 19-point advantage just 12 minutes into the contest. Lewis hit his first seven shots, including four triples, and at one point had outscored the Hawks, 19-18, all by himself.
“I kind of knew in shoot around earlier this morning,” Lewis II said of his hot-shooting performance. “I had a pretty good shoot around. I felt I was locked in, more engaged on defense and offense, so it carried over to tonight like I expected it to.”
Williams Jr. provided a pair of highlight dunks in the first half, the second an alley-opp feed from Renee Castro-Caneddy that brought the few in attendance to their feet. Fans were still buzzing about his theatrics at halftime.
The second half was much of the same as the margin swelled to 34. Lewis II finally missed a shot but hit his next to get back on track. Williams Jr. continued to fill the stat sheet, impacting the final score in a myriad of ways. He finished with a career-high 24 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. It was his third double-double of the season.
“Day by day, game by game, getting better,” Williams Jr. said of his growing confidence. “Just getting my shot right. I think that’s it’s finally going through with the ball movement we had today.”
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Dambrot made it a focus to work the ball inside more to Chas Brown, and he responded by scoring eight points, growing more comfortable as the game wore on. Kellon Taylor added eight rebounds and seven assists.
Duquesne outrebounded the Hawks by 17 and scored 17 points off 14 Maryland Eastern Shore (3-6) turnovers. After committing 11 turnovers in the first half, the Dukes failed to turn the ball over in the second half.
Defensively, Duquesne limited the Hawks to 38 percent shooting, including a 4-20 effort from behind the arc.
The Dukes host Stetson Wednesday at 8 p.m.
FOCUSED DEFENSIVE EFFORT
After allowing Pitt to shoot 56 percent on Friday night, the Dukes seemed to play with a renewed focus on defense. Dambrot was the most vocal he’s been all season on the sideline, imploring his team to play hard even when the score was out of hand. The 61 points Maryland Eastern Shore scored tied the fewest points Duquesne has surrendered all season (VMI).
“They haven’t shown they can finish anything off,” Dambrot said. “I was upset we got beat in transition a few times at the end. We got beat on the boards, because again they haven’t shown when the game gets tough, that they can win yet.”
Dambrot went on to add he is trying to “stress habits” and expects rough moments until the Dukes are playing up to his standards.
PLAYING THROUGH STRUGGLES
Since getting benched to start the game against Cornell, Lewis II has responded with 62 points in three games, good for an average of nearly 21 points. Dambrot said he sat Lewis II because he thought the sophomore guard needed to be better defensively. His refocused energy on defense has sparked his offensive scoring.
“I’m really glad for Mike,” Dambrot said. “Mike’s spent more time trying to be a better defender, and I think it has helped him offensively. Because again, he’s not worried about that end [offensive] as much as he is the other end.”
“Coach [Terry] Weigand has been working with him, so when he went through the hard times, we gave him to Coach Weigand, and I thought he’s done a really good job with him.”
Entering Monday’s contest, four Dukes were averaging more than 30 minutes a contest. Only two players—Lewis II and Williams Jr.—logged more than 30 minutes against Maryland Eastern Shore, and eight different players clocked 10 or more.
With the return of Brown and Eric James, the Dukes are the deepest they’ve been all season.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we won’t have to use the excuse we don’t have enough guys,” Dambrot said. “And we’ll continue to get more when Marko [Krivacevic] comes…and that gives us another big body to play with.”
Dambrot said until the Dukes can consistently score inside, they would be “inconsistently consistent” relying on their perimeter players every night.