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Duquesne Basketball

Dukes Win Fourth Straight Despite Sluggish Effort

Dukes Win Fourth Straight Despite Sluggish Effort

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot felt his team lacked energy during the last two days of practice.

“I thought we were just fair in practice the last two days,” Dambrot said of leading up to the game. “I thought we tried, but we didn’t have it for whatever reason.”

That same energy, or lack thereof, carried over to Wednesday night’s game against winless Mississippi Valley State. The Dukes went through the motions but still managed to defeat the Delta Devils by a comfortable margin, 73-49, at the AJ Palumbo Center.

It marked the first time Duquesne (6-3) has held back-to-back opponents under 50 points since December of 1968 when it defeated Pitt (57-42) and Catholic (72-48) in a span of four days. The Dukes limited Delaware State to 48 points on Saturday in a 49-point blowout.

A quick glance at the stats will say the Dukes played relatively well, but a study of the game film will tell you otherwise. They forced ill-advised shots, missed several easy baskets right around the rim, and never resembled the team that scored a season-high 97 points over the weekend.

At one point during the game, a fan in the first row of seats yelled, “Play hard!” at the Dukes. It was symbolic of the night.

Yet through it all, the defense carried Duquesne to its fourth straight win. Delta State shot just 38 percent and had several periods of extended minutes where it failed to score a basket.

“I thought that was the worst game we played out of the four,” Dambrot said. “A little juiceless but we showed enough rally ability to come away with it. You could kind of see our warts come out again..but we kind of jump through it, so I was happy about that.”

Blame it on finals, Mississippi Valley State’s record (0-9), or even the frigid outside temperatures, but the Dukes were lethargic during the game’s opening 15 minutes. Their energy inconsistent and coming in short bursts. Even after opening a 17-10 lead with 8:25 left in the half, the Dukes appeared to let up off the gas a bit, allowing the Delta Devils to creep back within three.

Mike Lewis II’s hustle play on defense seemed to energize Duquesne over the final five minutes of the frame. He poked the ball away from a Mississippi Valley State player near midcourt—thwarting a transition opportunity for the visitors—and raced to the other end, drawing a foul. It was part of a 7-0 stretch that widen the gap to ten.

Rene Castro-Caneddy’s running floater dropped in just before the first half buzzer sounded, capping a closing 15-4 run by Duquesne. The Dukes led 34-20 at the break.

Duquesne added to its lead over the final 20 minutes, as Castro-Caneddy, Lewis II, Tarin Smith, and Eric Williams Jr. all reached double-figures. But Mississippi Valley State never let the game get out of control; it was a 14-point contest with 5:24 left. Not until the final two minutes did the Dukes seem in complete command, pushing the advantage to 20 with an 8-2 surge.

“We had to bring our own energy tonight,” Smith said of the slow start. “We didn’t do that well to start the game. I think in the second half we picked it up a little bit, but we’ve got to fix that for sure.”

Duquesne dominated the paint, outscoring the Delta Devils, 44-28, inside, and netted 20 points off 16 Mississippi Valley State turnovers. The Dukes shot just 43 percent and cooled off from downtown after hitting 36 threes in their previous three wins. They finished 7-27 from long-range against the Delta Devils.

Smith connected for three more treys, giving him 11 in his last four games and tying his total from all of last season. He posted a game-high 16 points on 5-8 shooting, and Lewis II scored 15. Castro-Caneddy added 14 points and six assists, and Williams Jr. registered a double-double—his fifth of the season—of 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Tydus Verhoeven broke out of his mini-slump, logging eight points, seven rebounds, and five blocks. It was the most blocks he’s had since swatting seven against Robert Morris on Nov. 19.

“It was huge to get back on track,” Verhoeven said of his performance. “Teammates finding me in open spots, just the flow of the game and getting back into it. So that was huge for tonight and moving forward.”

Duquesne opens play in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic Sunday by hosting North Carolina A&T at 12:30 p.m.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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