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Duquesne Basketball

Inside the Dukes: Jackie Johnson III’s Decision Wasn’t the Difference

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WASHINGTON — While Duquesne looked to Primo Spears throughout its season-ending loss for production, it was Jackie Johnson III who had the ball in his hands with just under 20 seconds to go, flying down the court and trying to get the ball to the rack as quickly as he could.

The Dukes were down by three. Johnson could have looked for a three, whether it was shot by himself or by one of his teammates, to tie the game up. Instead, he went to the hoop, hit a layup, and cut the lead to just one, with less than 6 seconds to go.

“I think it was a good play,” head coach Keith Dambrot said about Johnson’s decision to take the layup. “I think going for two was a good play. I think we shot too many threes earlier in the last two minutes and didn’t take the twos because when you drive the ball in there, it puts pressure on the defense and the referee. And all we got to do is get one deflection and a steal and we win the game.”

The Rams successfully got the inbound pass in, and Jeremy Sheppard went to the line, where he missed the back-end of two free throws. The Dukes grabbed the rebound off a deflection and had to scramble for a last-second shot as the clock quickly raced down, giving them just 3.5 seconds to take it the length of the floor and score. Tyson Acuff launched a half-court desperation heave that missed, ending the game.

The moral of the play, Dambrot thought, is that Johnson — one of the top young pieces that Dambrot is building this program around — did the right thing. Addressing that play with anger towards Johnson’s decision would not feel right to Dambrot. That play — going for two and not three — was not the reason the Dukes lost.

“They [Rhode Island] butchered up a few at the end which allowed us to stay in the game,” Dambrot said. “We had our opportunities. They made a couple and we missed a couple when it really mattered, about that six or seven-minute mark or five-minute mark. I don’t know. That was the difference in the game.”

WITH DUKES ALREADY BEING DEPLETED, HIMA’S FOUL TROUBLE WAS TOUGH TO OVERCOME

Duquesne came into the game with four players — Austin Rotroff, RJ Gunn, Tre Williams, and Leon Ayers — out with injuries.

Without Rotroff, Williams, and Gunn, the Dukes were left with just two players taller than 6-foot-7, Mounir Hima and Toby Okani.

To start the game, Hima, a 6-foot-11 freshman, looked as though he was primed for a solid night of production. He hit each of his first two shots, grabbed a rebound, and blocked a shot. However, that changed shortly after.

Hima picked up two quick fouls and was quickly sent to the bench. He then came back in with just over 13 minutes left in the half, and on the first possession back in, committed another foul for being too physical on defense. He was, again, sent right to the bench.

“It definitely changed a lot, getting him out of the game,” Rhode Island’s leading scorer Antwan Walker said about Hima. “He couldn’t do as much being on the bench. So it just worked out our way.”

Throughout the rest of the game, Duquesne played with just seven players in its rotation, and was severely out-sized by Rhode Island. The Dukes had to look to 6-foot-5 Davis Larson, the team’s graduate assistant-turned player, to play a forward spot.

“I don’t know if it hurt us or helped us, to be quite honest,” Dambrot said about Hima’s foul trouble. “You know me, I’m brutally honest. He’s new to the game, and he’s done a good job for us. He’s an unbelievable person, but this is the first experience for him. Whereas, those other guys are a little bit older. So obviously, he’s had his struggles early on which showed me that he wasn’t quite ready for it yet. But I have unbelievable confidence in him because of his character that he will be, he’ll be a reasonably good player in this league, especially if he keeps working through it.”

PRIMO SPEARS SHOWS WHY HE DESERVED ALL-ROOKIE HONORS

Primo Spears was the shining star in Wednesday afternoon’s loss, as he scored a game-high 30 points on 12-for-25 shooting from the field.

Spears, who became the first Duquesne freshman to score 30 points in two-straight games, delivered this outstanding performance just days after not making the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie team.

While the team was decided prior to the 30-point game, Spears ended the regular season averaging 12.1 points per game, which is higher than four of the five players that made the team, including the conference’s Rookie of the Year. Including his first-round effort, he ended the season averaging 12.7 points per game, which is higher than all five players on the All-Rookie team.

Spears has cemented himself as the key piece for Dambrot to build this Duquesne program around.

DUKES DIDN’T GIVE UP DESPITE LONG LOSING STREAK

Despite being on a 16-game losing streak dating all the way back to early January, Duquesne came into the Capital One Center and gave all it had in the two-point loss.

“It’s been a tough, difficult, humbling year for us,” Dambrot said. “About everything that went wrong kind of went wrong for us, including injuries, close-game losses, just a lot of things. You know, tough. We have one coach that’s sick, Bill Brown. So we just had, we had one of those years. But the one thing that I will say is the last three games, I thought we really battled, and tonight was no exception.”

The Dukes started off the game hot, hitting 53% of their first-half shots en route to a four-point halftime lead. The team was battling, even though it was severely undersized and out-manned.

Even in the second half, when Duquesne let up a 19-6 run and fell behind by as much as seven, the Dukes continued to battle. They brought it all the way back to make things competitive within ten minutes, and were right in the game. Even when, again, they were down by seven, this time in the last minute of the game, the Dukes fought to bring the lead to just one point.

The fight that they showed was more than enough to make Dambrot proud in as difficult of a year that is possible in college hoops.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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