PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Mike Lewis II had prepared for this moment.
With Duquesne and La Salle tied at 92 in triple overtime Saturday and the rest of the Dukes’ backcourt having fouled out, Lewis II was going to have carry his team to a victory.
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The St. Louis native wrangled free off a ball screen near the top of the key and fired from three. Swish. The Palumbo Center roared to its feet, but the sophomore wasn’t finished yet.
Duquesne forced a stop on the other end as the clock approached the final minute of play. It was no mystery as to who would take the next shot for the Dukes.
Lewis II took a handoff from teammate Jordan Robinson in nearly the same spot of the previous play. The shot clock worked inside of 10 seconds. He crossed over to his right, gently rocking his defender back on his feet, and then back to his left, using a side step to create just enough separation. He pulled the trigger. Bucket. Ballgame.
It was a move Lewis II had perfected during the summer back in his hometown while training with Pure Sweat, a basketball skills company that counts NBA players such as Bradley Beal, Andrew Wiggins, and Dwight Howard among its clientele.
???? Watch until the end! Couldn’t be more proud of @MrEightball1! We worked on the timing & pace of this all summer & he hit it when it mattered most!
— Alex Bazzell (@alexbazzell24) January 14, 2018
“That move that I did Saturday—the side step—took us probably two and a half hours to get through this summer,” Lewis II said Monday after practice. “At first I kind of struggled with the rhythm and reading how he was guarding me. It was tough because at the end of the workout I had to make five straight. We were there for a couple hours—it was a long day that day—but it paid off.”
His fifth and final three of the day was part of an 11-point closing stretch for Duquesne’s best player, lifting the Dukes to a thrilling 101-94 victory and improving them to 4-1 in conference action. Lewis II finished with a team-high 25 points after scoring just three in the first half.
His slump to open the A-10 slate was officially a thing of the past, too. Lewis II had missed 17 of his first 20 attempts from long-range to open league play, but he got back on track at VCU, connecting for six threes. With Saturday’s performance, he’s now 11 for his last 20.
“It was a matter of seeing how guys were going to guard me,” Lewis II said of the slow start. “In non-conference, guys started to face-guard a little bit more, being more physical, and I knew after the good conference season I had last year, they [A-10 opponents] were going to do the same.”
“I just watched a lot of film, stayed in the gym, stayed at it, and the VCU game, unfortunately we lost, but I finally got down and knocked down some shots. I just wanted to have a carry over, especially late in the game against La Salle, and it did. Now I’m playing with a lot of confidence.”
Lewis II estimates he makes around 250 shots after practice each day, replicating game-like scenarios to prepare himself for big moments like Saturday. It’s translated to the court where he has drilled a league-leading 51 threes. He’s on pace to eclipse his Duquesne freshman record of 63 triples made last year by the end of January.
“All that hard work I put in the summertime and the things I do after practice are starting to pay off,” Lewis said. “Those are shots I work on every day, those last three shots I hit, so just to see those go in and that magnitude is huge.”
Now he returns home Wednesday to play in front of his family and friends when Duquesne travels west to square off with the Saint Louis Billikens in another A-10 contest.
MIKE LEWIS II WITH ICE IN HIS VEINS. pic.twitter.com/Vqgtwk78Vm
— A10Talk (@A10Talk) January 13, 2018
“I don’t get to get home very much because of our schedule and being so far away from home,” Lewis II said. “So any chance I get to go home and see my family is huge, to see my mom and dad…but once the game starts, it’s another game and time to handle business.”
Lewis II seems to enjoy playing against his hometown university, which recruited him but never officially offered a scholarship. In three games against the Billikens last season, he averaged 20 points and shot 58 percent (21-36) from the field, including 11-22 from deep.
Lewis II said he plans to make a stop at Imo’s Pizza, a St. Louis institution, and try the JT Special, a pie named after his high school teammate and current Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum. As seniors, Tatum and Lewis II, along with Iowa’s Tyler Cook and Princeton’s Will Gladson, led Chaminade College Prep to the Missouri Class 5 state championship, the state’s largest classification.
Once the plane touches down in the Gateway City, though, his phone will go in “do not disturb” mode to avoid getting caught up in everyone trying to see him. After all, it is a business trip.
“The closer game time gets, the more focused I get,” Lewis II said. “I’m pretty good at not having distractions.”
Saturday was more proof of that.