RICHMOND, Va. — The year was 1993. Folks were going to the movies to see Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson shared the throne atop the music charts. Bill Clinton took the reins of the oval office from George H.W. Bush. Drazen Petrovic and Andre the Giant died too soon. The Steelers’ offense was led by Barry Foster and Eric Green.
That year was also the last time the Duquesne Dukes men’s basketball team beat the Richmond Spiders in the Robins Center.
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Well, the last time before Wednesday night, where Duquesne took home a 74-68 win.
“It’s been a long time,” Dukes’ head coach Keith Dambrot said.
A chippy game ended with the Dukes vanquishing some old ghosts that preceded Richmond joining the Atlantic-10. To end an ugly streak in the capital of Virginia, all the Dukes needed was a stout defense, a strong second half run and some help from what Dambrot called “The Bank God.”
Sincere Carry was the first to nail an accidental bank shot. He drew in two Richmond defenders with 90 seconds left, faded away, avoided the extended hand of Andre Gustavson and let a shot fly. The ball kissed the glass and fell through the hoop, giving the Dukes a late lead.
On Duquesne’s next trip down, Carry drove towards the basket. Richmond defenders collapsed on him, but not before the freshman could let out a smooth dime to Frankie Hughes, who was waiting at the top of the key, all alone. Hughes gathered his shot, flicked his wrist and the straight-away attempt sailed toward the glass. The ball took a hard touch off it, then caught the front rim before falling harmlessly through the nylon.
“We were fortunate that ‘The Bank God’ kind of helped us a little bit,” Dambrot said. “Sometimes you got to be a little bit lucky.”
The Dukes’ win wasn’t all luck. It wasn’t pretty, but they out-played the Spiders on their homecourt and took away a victory.
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) January 17, 2019
Defense leads the way
Coming into this game, Richmond was the A-10’s third-best three-pointing shooting team, connecting on 33.6 percent of their shots from that range. On Wednesday night, the Dukes cooked up a defense that held the Spiders to a success rate of just 18.2 percent from that far out.
The Bank God did not bless Richmond and Duquesne had no mercy for them.
“Coach Dambrot is really big on defense,” Hughes said. “We expect defense to win our games, most of the time.”
Duquesne tallied six steals, five blocks and forced Richmond into 11 turnovers. At times, the game seemed chaotic with shots being misdirected, players diving for loose balls and possessions being poked away.
Since they were getting run-off the three-point arc, Richmond turned its focus to the paint, where it outscored Duquesne 48-28. But the Dukes didn’t exactly roll over in that area. They allowed the Spiders to grab just six offensive boards and to score only four second-chance points.
Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers provided presence in the paint for the Dukes, combining for 18 rebounds. Hughes had a career-high four blocks, too.
“The thing I’m most pleased with was that we were able to handle the things that (Richmond does), which are difficult,” Dambrot said. “That match-up zone, which you don’t see much. The Princeton style, from a true Princeton guy, you don’t see very often. We weren’t perfect, but we were good enough to win.”
Hughes’ big second half
While Michael Hughes had a solid game on the boards for the Dukes, it was Frankie Hughes’ shot-making in the second-half that helped the Dukes erase an eight-point deficit and take the lead.
Hughes, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Cleveland, has now connected on a three-pointer in 16 of 17 games this season. He’s shooting 32.6 percent from behind the arc this season, but had the best shooting night of his collegiate career so far in Richmond on Wednesday, nailing a career-high five shots from outside.
He finished the night with 15 points on five-of-10 attempts from three-point land, but was four-of-six from that range in the second half.
“It was kind of there all game,” Hughes said. “First half, we just couldn’t knock down shots. Second half, I got it going.”
Duquesne has struggled as a team from behind the arc this season, making just 32.1 percent of their shots from there, good enough for only ninth in the A-10. Eric Williams Jr., arguably the team’s best shooter, had an off night in Richmond, going three-for-11 from the floor and zero-of-five from outside.
“I can’t quite figure us out shooting-wise yet,” Dambrot said. “Frankie started to play a little better… I can’t say we’re a good three-point shooting team, but if you’re open, most decent players can make three’s. Because (Carry) consistently got us open, we had pretty much open looks for the most part.”
Carry could be the key
Freshman Sincere Carry might be the key to solving the Dukes’ three-point shooting woes. Not by taking those shots himself — although, he’s not bad from outside, knocking down three-of-seven attempts Wednesday — but by making the defense converge on him to open things up for his teammates.
That’s how Hughes was open for his three-pointer in the waning moments of the game that essentially sealed the win for the Dukes.
“I was telling (Carry), like, ‘Man, the rack is going to be there. You can get in the paint all you want. All you need to do is, when you get in there, if you don’t have a shot, just know that I’m behind you. You can always outlet it to me,’” Hughes said. “He found me on that one and I was able to bank the shot in.”
Carry finished the game with 21 points on 13 shots. The freshman from Solon, Ohio also added four rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Getting him going in the second half against Richmond was imperative to Duquesne’s chances to get a win. In the first half, he had six points and the Dukes shot just 15.4 percent from behind the arc. In the second half, he scored 15 points and the Dukes’ shot 50 percent from outside.
“We made three’s, but mostly because Carry got penetration. He was pretty much the key to the game,” Dambrot said. “We just put it in his hands consistently… He played terrific. We ask him to do a lot. We ask him to guard the other guy who’s terrific, we’re asking him to create opportunities for us, we’re asking him to score. For a young guy, he’s done an unbelievable job this year.”
Carry is making a case for himself to be on the A-10’s All-Rookie team when the season is over. He’s averaging 11.2 points, four rebounds and 5.6 assists per-game this season. He’s 38th in the country in assists and fourth in the country in steals.
Dukes win ugly
Whatever it is about the Robins Center — the water, the A/C, the lights, the acoustics, the pre-game meal — the Dukes hadn’t played well there in nearly three decades.
But they won Wednesday night. And it wasn’t flashy passes, a bucket load of three-pointers or a highlight reel full of dunks that led the Dukes to a win over the Spiders.
The Dukes missed shots they should’ve made, were a little late on some rotations, mishandled a few possessions and let Richmond do some things they could have stopped. But the Dukes also didn’t lose the rebounding battle, they played stingy defense and never gave up.
It might’ve been ugly, but they won.
“That’s kind of how we’re going to play. We’re not going to be smooth,” Dambrot said. “Every game is going to be like this for us. It’s not going to matter who we play. We can play a Division III and it’s still going to be the same. We have a strange bunch. It doesn’t matter if play on the road or at home.”
The Dukes now have 12 wins on the season — just four less than their 2017-18 total — and are 3-1 in A-10 play, putting them in the top half of the conference table as January rolls on. On paper, they should add to their win total Sunday, facing a George Washington team that has just six wins and is ranked No. 268th in KenPom.
But the Dukes aren’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s all about grit, who wants it most at the end of the game,” Hughes said. “It’s all about the little things: the charges, the rebounds, the hedges. It’s all about toughness, for real.”