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Duquesne's defense holds out in win over VMI

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Duquesne improved to 2-0 under first year coach Keith Dambrot Tuesday at the A.J. Palumbo Center, hanging on to beat VMI 77-61.

THE BIG STORY:

Over the last two years, Duquesne fans have learned that no second half lead is safe. It was one of the main reasons why Jim Ferry was shown the door in April.

It looked like Tuesday may be another one of those days, with the Keydets making their first eight field goal attempts of the second half. The Dukes were able to rebound from there and rebuild their 15 point halftime lead, but it was enough of a scare to work Dambrot up on the sideline.

“We definitely had flashes,” Tarin Smith said on the team’s defensive performance. “There’s definitely flashes of us being really good, but there’s also flashes of us being really bad.”

Smith and Dambrot both cited fatigue as a reason for the step back in the second half. Lewis II played 39 minutes, while Rene Castro-Caneddy and Smith played 35 and 33, respectively. Dambrot said he does not want to do that to his players, but with Chas Brown and Marko Krivacevic sidelined with foot and wrist injuries, he had to go with an eight man rotation.

“We just didn’t have any juice, which meant we had a hard time guarding them,” Dambrot said.

“I hold them to a high standard, but I’m also realistic enough to know that it’s going to be a teeth-pulling contest every game,” Dambrot added, later.

SCORING SUMMARY:

The Dukes built a 44-29 halftime lead behind 17 points from Mike Lewis II. Castro-Caneddy was 2-3 from three in a 10 point first half as well.

VMI made their first eight shots of the second half to pull back to within 54-49 with 11:51 remaining. Smith got the Dukes back on track with a fast break layup and a jumper to start a 13-5 run over the next six minutes. VMI only sank five of their last 20 attempts, and the Dukes lead comfortably from there.

The Dukes went 8-23 from behind the arc, with Lewis II leading the team by going 4-6. They went 3-26 in the first game of the season last Saturday. Lewis II shot 5-9 and scored 22 points, and Smith went 7-13 from the field in his 21 point night.

Duquesne never trailed.

MOMENT THAT MATTERED:

With VMI on a stretch of making eight of their last nine field goals, Tydus Verhoeven had back-to-back blocks to cool off the Keydets’ offense. Those blocks, combined Smith’s layup, made it 56-49 Dukes with 11:01 to play.

“He changed the game, a little bit,” Dambrot said.

Verhoeven fouled out at the 10:19 mark after just 10 minutes on the court.

GAME HIGHS:

Points: Lewis II (22)  Rebounds: Eric Williams Jr. (9)  Assists: Keith Smith (VMI, 6)  Steals: Lewis II (4)

HE SAID IT:

Lewis II after hearing his four steals were a collegiate career high: “It might be a life high.”

AND ONE:

The Dukes announced five early signees earlier in the day. The class consists of 6-11 small forward Gavin Bizaeu, 6-9 power forward Amari Kelly, 6-10 power forward Austin Rotroff, 6-11 center Dylan Swingle and 6-2 point guard Brandon Wade.

“In order to win big, you have to think big, and in order to think big, you have to be big,” said Dambrot in the press release. “We felt the most efficient way for us to jump in the standings was to, one, believe in ourselves, so we were thinking big, but we also had to improve our size and our ability to score the ball around the rim and defend around the rim. This group will give us a chance to do those things.”

Bizeau was ranked among the top 10 players in Indiana by multiple recruiting services after averaging 15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game. Kelly is one of the ‘top six big men to watch’ by OTRHoopsReport.

Rotroff is a 3-star recruit and the second best center in Ohio and the ninth best overall, according to ESPN. Swingle is the third best center and 10th best overall, according to ESPN. He is a 3-star recruit, as well.

Wade was the Ann Arbor News boys Player of the Year last season.

This is the first Duquesne recruitment class with two or more 6-9 players. The only current Duke listed at 6-9 is Krivacevic.

ON DECK:

The Dukes will take on Robert Morris (0-2) at the Palumbo Center Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Robert Morris won last year’s matchup against the Dukes 64-60.

NUMB3RS:

1. Eric James was the only Duke to score off the bench, going 2-4 for 5 points. Duquesne’s bench went a combined 2-9, including 0-2 from behind the arc, and were outscored by the VMI reserves 19-5.

2. Duquesne scored 27 points off of 24 VMI turnovers. The Dukes turned the ball over nine times.

3. Lewis II missed his first free-throw of the season with 5:50 remaining in the second half. He made his first 14 attempts and is now 17-18.

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