When Eric Williams Jr.’s last-ditch, off-balance heave from the left wing clanged off the rim and time expired, Tarin Smith fell to the floor and stayed there while St. Bonaventure celebrated wildly around him.
The junior Nebraska transfer was as important as anyone in putting Duquesne in position to claim what would have been its most impressive Atlantic-10 win of the season. Smith scored 24 points, the last of them coming on a 3-pointer from the right wing with 42 seconds to go to tie the game at 81.
But Duquesne’s top on-ball defender couldn’t stop St. Bonaventure star Jaylen Adams all night, and he couldn’t do it on the last possession either. Adams hit a 3 from well beyond the arc with just under five seconds left, Williams couldn’t match it, and the Bonnies claimed an 84-81 win in front of an impassioned, season-high 3,411 at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
The Dukes fell to 15-9, 6-5 in the Atlantic 10. The Bonnies improved to 16-6, 6-4.
Adams finished with 40 points, a record for an Duquesne opponent at the A.J. Palumbo Center. That last 3-pointer was his eighth on 13 attempts. He made 14 of 22 field goals and added seven assists against just three turnovers. Adams’ 40 points ranks second only to Duquesne’s Mark Stephenson’s 43 against West Virginia in 1990.
It was a blow to the psyche of Smith, who has made his bones on defense since helping St. Anthony’s to a pair of state runner-up finishes as a New Jersey prep star.
“That’s on me,” Smith said. “We’ve gotta do better defending him. He’s a tough player. He’s a great player. But that shouldn’t happen. Especially on me. I have too much pride for that. It shouldn’t happen.”
Smith was especially dismayed with the last defensive possession. Adams dribbled most of the clock out, then St. Bonaventure ran two ball screens at Smith. He went under the first one and recovered quickly. He was late on the second, however, and got caught up with forward Chas Brown, who hedged hard and then retreated. Smith managed to contest the shot, but Adams still had a clean enough look and rhythm to drill it.
“They just set a simple 1-5 ball screen,” Smith said. “Chas hedged and I didn’t get back fast enough. I got back but I was late. He was open. You know he was making that. He was making it all night.”
Because of Adams’ heroics, the Dukes took a loss in their best offensive performance of the season. They shot 55.6 percent from the field, which eclipsed the season high of 50 percent set in Wednesday’s win over George Washington.
They were effective because their guards got to the rim. Smith’s game-tying shot in the final minute was his only made 3-pointer of the night, but he was 9 for 15 from the field and 5 of 6 from the line, slashing to the bucket and drawing contact. Senior Rene Castro-Caneddy was just as effective, making eight of his 14 field goals for 21 points.
Duquesne outscored St. Bonaventure in the paint 36-24 with 30 of those 36 coming from guards. Brown had two buckets inside and forward Kellon Taylor had one, but the rest came on either drives from the perimeter or fast breaks.
“Our two guards get to the basket better than any guards I’ve ever had,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said. “Rene’s a beast, and Tarin’s quick. They’re really good to the basket. Sometimes we play a four-man who doesn’t score, so it’s clogged up, and they’re still getting to the basket.”
But all of their hard charges to the rim were eventually answered by Adams and fellow senior Matt Mobley who scored 19 points. The Bonnies shot 48.4 percent from the field and hit 11 3-pointers, the most made by a Duquesne opponent this season. The Bonnies won the rebounding battle 34-31 with 15 offensive rebounds, scoring 20 second-chance points to the Dukes’ five.
“I’m never going to be happy when we give up 48 percent from the field and 11 for 23 from the 3-line, 15 offensive rebounds,” Dambrot said. “That’s not acceptable to me. I don’t care if LeBron’s out there or Kobe Bryant. We gotta do better than that.”
As disappointed as he was with the loss, however, Dambrot was pleased with the atmosphere in the mostly-filled arena, and the way his team met the moment.
“It didn’t end the way, they wanted, but by the same token if we get that kind of crowd every night, we become relevant again in college basketball,” Dambrot said, “which is really what we want to be. We want to be relevant. You get relevance by playing in the NCAA Tournament, but we started to gain some respect where Duquesne is no longer the stepchild of the league, I think. I mean, I don’t know how many teams want to play Duquesne at this point. I don’t think it’s a lot of fun.”
Duquesne next plays Dayton on Wednesday followed by Fordham on Saturday (get tickets here).