WASHINGTON, D.C. – Duquesne opened Sunday’s game against George Washington feeding big man Michael Hughes early and often.
Matched up against the Colonials Javier Langarcia, Hughes clearly had a size advantage—especially in length—and the Dukes wanted to exploit it. Hughes answered, too.
He scored Duquesne’s first eight points and 11 of its first 16. Behind his play underneath and the defense forcing turnovers, the Dukes raced out to a 24-6 lead.
“We knew that a team like George Washington is capable of beating any team in the league,” Hughes said of his start. “We had to come out and hit them in the mouth from the beginning.”
The game had all the makings of being a rout. Then George Washington switched to a zone defense and the game flipped. Suddenly, the Dukes faced more resistance when trying to find Hughes and the offense stalled for prolonged stretches, allowing the Colonials to rally.
George Washington outscored the visitors 33-22 over the final 13 minutes of the first half to whittle the deficit to six, battled throughout the second half, and eventually went ahead in the game’s final minutes. After the home team stretched its margin to five, Duquesne leaned on Hughes to rescue them.
Sincere Carry’s two free throws with 57 seconds left pulled the Dukes within three, and Eric Williams Jr. produced a steal. Carry misfired but Hughes caught the rebound and scored. George Washington only hit one of the two ensuing free throws, and Duquesne went back to its big man again. He delivered, squeezing in a layup with five seconds left to force overtime.
“He was a presence in the paint for offense and defense,” Carry said of Hughes. “The way he blocks and rebounds is amazing. It gets the offense going. He was great.“
Without Hughes’ heroics, the Dukes probably don’t extend the game. They would need him one more time, too.
Three-pointers from Frankie Hughes and Williams Jr. helped Duquesne build an eight-point lead. However, George Washington rallied again. They managed to pull within three and forced the Dukes into a bad shot. With a chance to level the score, George Washington’s Jack Maceo opted to drive the baseline for a quick two. Hughes met him at the basket, blocking his shot, his seventh of the game. He even secured the rebound, and Duquesne iced the game at the line.
“Mike [Hughes] made a lot of really big plays around the rim that saved us,” head coach Keith Dambrot said.
Carry and Williams Jr. shouldered the offense during the middle stages of the game, but it was Hughes who lifted them to the win. In new age baseball terms, the Kansas City, Mo., native was the opener and the closer.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 21, 2019
Duquesne leaned on him early, and when it needed him the most late, Hughes delivered. His 21 points, 14 rebounds, and seven blocks were all career highs.
When asked afterwards about his performance, Hughes could only focus on his seven turnovers.
“Me personally, I don’t like to bask on what I did well…I like to look at what I did wrong,” Hughes said. “I look at the things I need to do better. I had seven turnovers tonight. We win the game [in regulation] if I had three. I don’t think a player like myself or any player on this team should have seven turnovers.”
The turnovers withstanding, the Dukes will need more of these performances from Hughes going forward, including Wednesday against A-10 leader Saint Louis.
Sincere Carry was a steady presence for Duquesne once again. There were several key moments in the second half with George Washington chipping away that the freshman guard showed his moxie.
Following Maceo Jack’s thunderous dunk near the 14-minute mark, Carry nailed a short jumper in the lane, a beautiful display of seeing a lane and attacking. Out of the under 12-minute media timeout and the Dukes leading by five, Carry sized up a long triple and drained it, temporarily silencing a roaring crowd. And then there was his layup in traffic moments later after the Colonials scored five straight to quickly erase a 10-point deficit.
It’s been said in this space before but Carry has the talent and fortitude that is needed to win big games. The lead was slipping away, and the youngster recognized he needed to make a play.
“He’s a special player,” Dambrot said of Carry. “I’ve had very few guys who could ever make players better around him, and he’s one of them. He affects the game at both ends as well. He’s not scared of the moment, he’s not scared to make mistakes. He’s just a winning guy.”
They’re moments that don’t show up in a box score but play a big role in the outcome.
“I’m just out there playing free,” Carry said of these moments. “Coaches, my teammates all trust me to make the shots. I’m constantly in the gym working on my shot so I have faith in every shot. I think I can make every shot.”
TIME FOR PITTSBURGH TO SHOW UP
This past week has been a good one for Duquesne fans.
First, the win at Richmond, which hadn’t been accomplished since 1993, and now an overtime victory in the nation’s capital.
Duquesne has won four straight conference games for the first time 2010-11. The Dukes are near the top of the A-10 standings with a 4-1 mark, just behind conference leader Saint Louis (5-0), who happens to be visiting Pittsburgh Wednesday.
Duquesne had the exact same record last year after its first five league games and a matchup looming with the Billikens. That contest was on the road, and Duquesne was clearly overmatched from the start. They would lose that game and nine of their next 11.
Wednesday’s home game is not a make-or-break scenario for the Dukes, but it will be an opportunity to see how this year’s group stacks up against the conference’s top dogs. On paper, this year’s team is remarkably better than the 2017-18 version.
With home games against VCU and Rhode Island to follow Saint Louis, Dambrot and his players will need all the home support they can get.
“Hopefully we get a big crowd in Pittsburgh,” Dambrot said. “I think that’s a big deal. We have three high-level teams coming in, and if we get sellouts or near sellouts, that will give us a big advantage and a chance to win those games.”