FAIRFAX, Va. – In Saturday’s come from behind victory over George Mason, Duquesne again exhibited its best quality.
Keith Dambrot’s group has a whole bunch of fight. And then some.
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Playing in front a rowdy student section buzzing from homecoming tailgate festivities and against an opponent who seemingly couldn’t miss, the Dukes never flinched.
The Patriots were scoring at ease. Inside, outside, in transition. There was hardly any resistance. 12 minutes into the contest Duquesne found itself in a 33-14 hole.
Then Marcus Weathers grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He converted both free throws. After the Dukes missed their first eight attempts from long distance, Tavian Dunn-Martin finally connected on one. Weathers added another bucket, and Frankie Hughes drilled a three moments later. A game that was once teetering on the edge of a blowout had suddenly reversed course.
It may have been hard to believe at the time, but Duquesne was in the early stages of orchestrating another improbable comeback.
“Take care of the ball, share the ball, don’t panic, guard the ball better,” Dambrot said of his message to the team in the huddle. “Just the little stuff. They did a good job. You’ve got to give them credit for their ability to handle adversity.”
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) February 24, 2019
The Dukes would eventually come all the way back—the team’s second 19-point comeback victory of the season. It’s both remarkable and preposterous to think about. Duquesne took its first lead of the game with 4:53 remaining and would actually give it back to George Mason twice before the final horn sounded. Yet somehow the road team pieced together enough plays in the final moments to escape with a one-point victory.
It was the seventh time this season Dambrot’s crew has rallied from a double-digit deficit and fourth in Atlantic 10 play. The Dukes seem to be at their best when backed into a corner.
“Never quit,” Tavian Dunn-Martin said of his teammates’ mentality. “Just keep going, just keep striving, just keep chopping it down by each media timeout. That’s what coach wanted us to do so we got the stops and came out with the win.”
Dambrot refused to accept credit in the game’s aftermath and while he does deserve praise for keeping his poise and sticking to the game plan, there’s something about this team’s DNA makeup that is unmistakable.
“I’ve never been around it like this before in my life,” Dambrot said of his team’s propensity to overcome large deficits. “Again, I give them a lot of credit because it tells you a lot about their fight. Most teams around the country can’t do that as many times as we’ve done it.”
The Dukes are pretty talented, but the fact that they have a little bit of dog in them makes them scary. It’s the type of team opponents want to avoid in March.
“I feel like we have a lot of heart,” Dunn-Martin said. “I feel like we like it, I guess? I feel like we’re a second half team. We’ve been playing better in the second half than the first half all year. We just like coming back and proving people wrong.”
DUNN-MARTIN LEADS THE WAY
Duquesne doesn’t rally to beat George Mason Saturday without it’s smallest player. Filling in for the injured Sincere Carry, Tavian Dunn-Martin overcame a rocky start to score a career-high and game-best 22 points. He was 7 of 11 from the floor and 4 of 7 from behind the 3-point line. During several sequences, he was the best player on the floor.
“I’ve said all along I thought Tavian was the key for our team,” Dambrot said. “Especially if we had Sincere to take the next step, because Tavian is a scoring machine. The thing I was most proud of it was he’s had problems when things haven’t gone well for him, but tonight he rallied himself.”
“He played poorly early and then played great. We’re not going to be good without him. He’s just a tough, little guy. What he does is amazing when you think about his size…he’s just a tough kid.”
Dunn-Martin’s two-possession sequence in the second half where he knocked down consecutive triples came with George Mason leading by six. The Dukes had been chipping away yet couldn’t quite get over the hump. The arena was rocking from five straight points by the Patriots.
Dambrot called for a play that had Dunn-Martin feed the ball to Lamar Norman Jr. in the corner. Dunn-Martin then fanned out along the perimeter, using a screen at the free throw line extended to create separation. The action leads Dunn-Martin’s defender to believe he is preparing for a lob pass over the screen. Except Dunn-Martin cuts short and slips back underneath the screen, freeing up for a shot. Norman Jr.’s pass was on the money, and Dunn-Martin’s aim was true. He followed up that with a pull-up three on the next possession. Boom. Game on again.
“The whole team has confidence in me,” Dunn-Martin said. “They feel like every time I shoot a three it’s going in, so I just have the same confidence as them and hopefully it goes in.”
Without their best player in Carry, and Michael Hughes and Eric Williams Jr. battling foul trouble, the Dukes needed offense and Dunn-Martin rose to the occasion. It’s a testament to the depth Dambrot has quickly built at Duquesne. How many teams can lose their starting point guard and have the backup come in and perform at that level? In a road game, no less. Not many.
Duquesne doesn’t leave George Mason without a win if not for Dunn-Martin.
BIG SHOT FRANK
If Tavian Dunn-Martin was Batman Saturday, then Frankie Hughes was Robin. The sophomore shooting guard struggled early against George Mason but was at his best late.
Hughes had six points at the break but went without a basket for nearly 14 minutes in the second half. His back-to-back threes pulled the Dukes within in one for just the second time, and Duquesne would take its first lead moments later. Yet his biggest shot came with 93 seconds left.
George Mason had regained the lead and Javon Greene’s jumper stretched the home team’s advantage to three. The Dukes desperately needed a bucket. Enter Hughes.
He freed up near the top of the key, and Eric Williams Jr. found the sharpshooter, who swished it home. The raucous crowd went silent.
“Big shot Frank,” Dambrot exclaimed. “Most of the time when it matters, he makes a couple big ones, and he kept us in the game when they made a run at us with a couple big threes. So I’m happy for him.”
It takes some fortitude to pull the trigger, and Hughes delivered. He’s clearly not afraid of the moment. He had 20 points in the team’s comeback against Rhode Island, and he finished with 15 against George Mason.
“That’s my sniper,” Dunn-Martin said of Hughes. “When’s hot, I find him, and when I’m hot, he finds me. So I found him and he hit the two threes, and then he hit the last one to get us the win.”
ABOUT THAT LAST PLAY
Lost in the late game heroics is that George Mason scored just six points over the final 5:44.
The Patriots actually had three chances in the final 57 seconds to retake the lead but missed all three shots. More importantly, the Dukes snagged the rebound each time.
On the final possession, Dave Paulsen designed a play that was meant to get the ball to Otis Livingston II, only the Dukes defended it perfectly. Instead, the Patriots Jarred Reuter forced a tough shot in the lane over the outstretched arms of Michael Hughes.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) February 23, 2019
“We told our guys we thought they were going to try to get it to [Otis] Livingston,” Dambrot said of the final play. “They popped him. We did a good job of keeping him from catching it and they threw it to Reuter…and then Mike had enough discipline to keep him off his left shoulder, which is really where he wants to go, so I give Mike a lot of credit for having good, solid discipline when it really matter.”
Hughes had been in foul trouble all afternoon but avoided creating contact. It’s a smart play where many shot blockers have fallen prey to committing a foul.
FRESHMEN COME UP BIG
Due to Sincere Carry’s injury, the freshman duo of Lamar Norman Jr. and Brandon Wade were asked to play more minutes.
Norman Jr. logged 18 minutes, the most he’s played in more than two months. He responded with six points, one more than he’s had in his last seven appearances.
Wade missed his first shot but drilled a long 3-pointer in the second half directly in front of the Duquesne bench. After the make, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native turned to his teammates and shot out his tongue. The Dukes roared. It was one of those moments that stood out in a game of several.
“Sometimes they get frustrated with playing time,” Dambrot said of his youngsters. “But we don’t win the game tonight without them. There’s no question.”
Freshman forward Amari Kelly also provided big minutes, filling in for Michael Hughes. He only scored two points but collected five rebounds, two assists and two steals. On an afternoon when Duquesne need its ancillary players to step up, the freshmen did.
WEATHERING THE STORM
Marcus Weathers quietly finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. His two free throws late in the game staring into the student section were about as cold-blooded as it gets. He does a lot of things that won’t show up in the stat sheet and is a solid defender. He’s incredibly important to Duquesne’s success.
SINCERE CARRY UPDATE
After the game, Dambrot said Sincere Carry was still day-to-day and wouldn’t comment on his status for Wednesday’s contest at St. Bonaventure. Check back later this week for more on the guard’s health.