By Adam Lindner | Staff Writer
After a listless beginning to Wednesday’s contest against the Saint Francis Red Flash, the Duquesne Dukes benefitted from career highs from both Rene Castro and Tarin Smith as they came back to defeat their in-state rival.
Castro and Smith combined for 49 of the Dukes’ 89 points, and freshman Isiaha Mike chipped in with 16 of his own. Castro, whose previous career high had been 12 as a freshman at Butler, shot 8-14 from the field and 6-9 from 3-pt. range to go along with four made free throws on as many tries.
Asked about the Dukes’ sudden successes from downtown, Smith laughed and deferred the question to the man who connected six times from beyond the arc.
“I mean, I hit the first two, so I just felt like I was in a good rhythm,” Castro said. “My teammates and coaches just said to keep shooting.”
Smith shot an efficient 8-11 from the field himself, led the team with 35 minutes played and had three assists to only one turnover as he further solidified himself as the primary ball handler for this Dukes team.
While the Dukes did have an encouraging 21 assists as a team — two more than they had in their first two games combined — they also did cough up 17 turnovers, with a multitude of them coming in the opening minutes of the game.
“That might’ve been the ugliest first 15 minutes of basketball I’ve ever been associated with,” head coach Jim Ferry said.
The Red Flash, who led by as many as 10 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half, looked eager to go from the start. While Saint Francis committed some costly turnovers of their own, they did a good job of forcing Duquesne into poor decisions and swinging the momentum in their favor early. A good combination of shooting and timely rebounding gave the Red Flash an early lead and many second chance opportunities while keeping the Dukes at bay.
It was then that Castro swung the momentum. He hit two 3-pointers back-to-back, and then a few possessions later hit another one. His good shooting fate sparked a 12-1 run that gave the Dukes a 38-36 lead at the half.
Forgotten amid such remarkable play from the backcourt was Mike’s strong 16-point, six rebound outing, including shooting 4-5 from deep. Mike brought the crowd to its feet when he flushed an alley-oop pass that came from under the basket on an inbounds pass, further swinging the tide in the Dukes’ favor.
The Dukes continued to control the tempo of the game after halftime, going with a different lineup than that which began the game. Nakye Sanders, who tied a career-high with 10 rebounds, replaced Darius Lewis, and the streaking Castro stayed in for Mike Lewis II, who struggled in his first game since being named the A-10 Rookie of the Week.
What will be the challenge for the Dukes as they continue to grow together will be playing full 40-minute games, start to finish. Starting games strong from the jump will be vital against the much more talented teams that the Dukes will face later on in the season.
The Dukes will get their first look at elite competition starting with their game at Rupp Arena against Kentucky on Sunday at 9:00pm. To be televised on ESPN, the Dukes won’t be able to afford to start as sluggishly as they have in their first few contests when they go up against the No.2 ranked Wildcats.