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Duquesne Basketball

Saunders: Primo Spears’ Late-Season Surge Gives Hope for Duquesne’s Future

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WASHINGTON — Primo Spears can ball, and if the rest of the Atlantic-10 conference didn’t know before, they should after Wednesday.

In Duquesne’s first-round 2022 A-10 Tournament game against Rhode Island, the freshman point guard continued his late-season assault on the scoreboard, putting up 30 points as the Dukes fell inches short of upsetting the 11th-seeded Rams.

Spears was not a part of the 2022 A-10 All-Freshman Team, and that seems like a notable snub based on the way he finished his season. Spears scored 25 points on March 2 at George Washington set a career high. Three days later, he broke that with a whopping 34 against La Salle. Tuesday, in his first taste of the Atlantic-10 Tournament, he dropped 30 on the Rams to become the first freshman in program history to score 30 in back-to-back games.

“Primo Spears is a heck of a ballplayer,” Rhode Island coach David Cox said. “One-on-one, he’s really, really hard to guard. He got a rhythm early and there was no looking back. I probably tried three or four or five different guys on him.”

Spears was a regular contributor for Duquesne all season, starting all but two of his 30 games, and he had a very good freshman year. But he turned into a different player once the calendar turned to March. What happened?

“It was just the game plan we were running,” Spears said. “The last three teams switched to ball screens with me and a bigger guy. Coach D just believed in my talent to be able to beat my guy one-on-one. That’s it. I just took my opportunity when Coach D gave it to me with them and their defensive scheme. So I just took advantage of my opportunities.”

That’s true, but only half of it. Spears scored 15 points against George Washington on Feb. 16 and just six against Rhode Island on Feb. 26. He got better at the end of the long, tough freshman season that saw the Dukes close on a 17-game losing streak.

“I have stressed with Primo especially, this is an opportunity to really develop and learn how to lose,” head coach Keith Dambrot said. “Because to be really great, sometimes you have to learn how to get hit in the mouth. I have been through it one other time in my life. That’s what kind of separates you. Do you put the white flag up, or do you battle to the bitter end?”

That end came for Duquesne with Tuesday’s loss. But the future, which was certainly in question at points during a disappointing season, suddenly looks a lot brighter with Spears’ emergence. When combined with fellow freshman guard Jackie Johnson III, sophomore Tyson Acuff and redshirt junior forward Kevin Easley, and the prospect of getting forwards Austin Rotroff and Tre Williams back from injury, Duquesne now looks to have the nucleus of a strong future rotation for 2022-23. 

Dambrot will have to add talent to the mix, and battle the ever-present challenge for a mid-major coach of holding on to his top players, but it’s the fact that Spears looks poised to lead the way that should give the program and its fans optimism that Duquesne’s 2021-22 downturn will be a short one.

“Primo looked like one of the best players in the league tonight,” Dambrot said. “We just have to stay positive and not doubt ourselves. I have been through enough that I know I can get it done.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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