PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne basketball is in unfamiliar territory for the first time in awhile.
The Dukes have lost consecutive games since dropping three straight to Robert Morris, Cornell and Pitt back in late November, early December. They’ll look to avoid a third straight loss Wednesday night when they play at George Washington (9-12, 2-6 A-10).
Duquesne won the first matchup, 69-52, back on Jan. 3 behind Eric Williams Jr.’s double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds. The Dukes held the Colonials to 37 percent shooting and allowed George Washington to hit just three of 14 three-pointers. It was the first of three straight wins by Duquesne to open Atlantic 10 play.
But since starting 5-2 against the league opponents, the Dukes have suffered narrow losses to Richmond and No. 22 Rhode Island by a combined seven points. A trip to Washington, D.C., may be just what the doctor ordered.
The Colonials are reeling, having lost six of seven overall. Their only win in the month of January was an 80-68 triumph over George Mason two weeks ago. That win also represents the only time in the last 30 days they’ve scored more 68 points. Only Fordham (62.4) averages fewer points per contest than George Washington (63.8) among conference opponents. The Dukes have a great opportunity to get back in the win column and build momentum heading into the second half of league play.
One storyline to watch will be how teams game plan for the Dukes a second time around. What adjustments will opposing coaches make and does Keith Dambrot have a few aces in his back pocket? I have no doubt in the latter, but how teams choose to attack Duquesne and its talented backcourt should be closely monitored. If the Dukes can repeat their effort from Saturday and show better poise late, it’s all a moot point.
Duquesne lost to Rhode Island at the buzzer Saturday, dropping the Dukes to 1-3 on the road this season. Their only win away from the Palumbo Center was at Fordham, who is 2-7 in the A-10. Against both Rhode Island and VCU, they led by double-digits early in the second half, only to see the lead vanish. They showed resolve battling back to tie the Rhody late, yet the Rams made just one more play to win the game. Will they find themselves in a tight affair once again? The odds say yes.
One discerning trend that has developed recently is poor free throw shooting. The Dukes were 8-12 from the line against Rhode Island, but they’re shooting less than 62 percent from the stripe since the start of the VCU game. If Wednesday’s game comes down to the wire, converting free throws will be paramount.
In the first meeting with George Washington, Mike Lewis II shot 4-13 from the field and 1-7 from behind the arc. He’s experiencing another slump, but his late three against Rhode Island might have signaled he’s back on track. A shot like that can do wonders for a shooter’s confidence. He’ll need to be vintage Lewis II against George Washington.
Another Duke to track will be Jordan Robinson. He only had four points against Rhode Island, but it’s apparent he’s in a rhythm right now. His post move late in the first half was a perfect example of a player trusting his instincts and not panicking when his initial basketball move didn’t work.
Robinson, along with Chas Brown and Tydus Verhoeve, will be tasked with slowing the Colonials’ Yuta Watanabe, who scored 15 points in the first meeting. On the season, Watanabe is leading George Washington in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (6.3). Widely considered one of the best two-way players in the A-10, Duquesne’s big men must keep Watanabe in check.
Dambrot will point to George Washington’s 8-3 home record as a reason the Dukes can’t overlook Wednesday’s contest. Furthermore, they have just seven wins in 35 attempts in D.C.
Duquesne can’t be looking ahead. From here on out, the Dukes are playing for seeding. They’re playing for March.