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Behind Eric Williams Jr.’s 34 Points, Dukes Beat George Mason

Behind Eric Williams Jr.’s 34 Points, Dukes Beat George Mason

PITTSBURGH – Duquesne is making a habit of playing entertaining overtime games.

For the second straight weekend the Dukes played at least two overtimes, and for the second straight time they won. Behind a career-high 34 points from Eric Williams Jr., Duquesne prevailed over George Masion, 95-89, in double-overtime Saturday at the AJ Palumbo Center.

The victory improved the Dukes to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the A-10. It was their 10th straight home win and 12th of the season, matching the record set by the 1993-94 squad (12-3).

“I figured in order to get the fans back, you’ve got to make it exciting,” head coach Keith Dambrot joked after the game. “I give those fans a lot of credit. You could see the buzz kind of coming back, the students were great, the old fans were great, and really we couldn’t win without those people.”

Duquesne also couldn’t win without its pair of talented freshman. The 34 points from Williams Jr. was a Dukes freshman record, and his nine threes were a school-record, topping a feat shared by former players Aaron Jackson (2009), Bryant McAllister (2006) and Tony Petrarca (1989).

Duquesne’s other freshman, Tydus Verhoeven, set a rookie record with nine blocks. His consecutive stuffs in double-overtime helped the Dukes force a stop with George Mason trailing by three.

“We got unbelievable performances from those two freshman,” Dambrot said.

Williams Jr. tied his season-high with five threes in the opening half, scoring 19 points, as he was the only Duquesne player in double-digits at the break. But he went without a point in the second half until the final seconds.

Trailing by as much as 11 during the second stanza, George Mason rallied and eventually tied the game at 71. Justin Kier’s two free throws with 47 seconds remaining handed the Patriots their first lead since 2-0, and Jaire Grayer extended the advantage to 75-72 with two more freebies with 25 ticks left.

On Duquesne’s final possession, Dambrot drew up a three-point shot for sharpshooter Mike Lewis II, but he missed. Williams Jr. gathered the rebound near the top of the key, took two steps to his right and drilled a three, tying the game at 75.

“I just tried to get the big shot and made it,” Williams Jr. said.

In the first overtime, Duquesne built an 84-77 lead, but back-to-back triples by the Patriots trimmed the deficit to one. After Williams Jr. missed one of two attempts at the line, Kier drove the lane and scored with 0.01 seconds left to extend the game another five minutes.

Tied at 89 in the double overtime, Williams Jr. took a pass from Tarin Smith and connected for his final trey of the game. The Dukes would not relinquish the lead this time, though, as Verhoeven blocked Grayer two times in a row on the ensuing George Mason possession. Lewis II and Smith iced the game at the line, hitting three of four attempts.

Williams Jr. shot 11 of 18 from the field and nine of 15 from behind the line. He also pulled down 11 rebounds to record his team-leading ninth double-double of the season. Not a bad performance for someone who only had one Division I offer.

“Usually my first shot I just try to make it go in the first time just to get a good start,” Williams Jr. said of his shooting. “I just kept hitting. I mainly focused on my shots and they went through.”

Verhoeven filled up the stat sheet in addition to his nine blocks, totaling four points, eight rebounds and five assists. His 49 blocks are 13 more than any other player in the A-10.

“You just have to be on help side and it kind of comes with instincts,” Verhoeven said of being a good shot blocker. “The guards do a great job of knowing if they do get beat, I’m coming from behind, and they can get the guard leaning back a bit, so it’s easier for me…instincts and timing, that’s the big thing.”

As a team, Duquesne matched a school-record with 15 blocks, and the Dukes hit 16 threes to offset being outrebounded for the second straight game. George Mason outscored the home team 44-30 in the paint.

Lewis II finished with 20 points, Renee Castro-Caneddy added 14, and Smith chipped in with 13.

The Dukes opened the game on a 22-7 run but were outscored by 11 over the final 12:16 of the half. George Mason picked up the intensity on the defensive end by switching to a matchup zone and forced Duquesne into 12 first half turnovers. Despite the surge, the Patriots trailed by four at the break.

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The Dukes will remain at home Wednesday when they host Richmond at 7 p.m.

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