Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Davidson, the Atlantic 10’s southernmost program, made the trek to Pittsburgh to face Duquesne — losers of its past five games prior to Saturday’s contest — in the Chuck Cooper Classic and left victorious, beating the Dukes 71-60 behind a 30-point effort from freshman guard Kellan Grady.
Sophomore guard Mike Lewis II led the Dukes with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting in 26 minutes of play. Freshman swingman Eric Williams Jr. finished as the only other Duquesne player that scored in double-digits with 12 points and led the Dukes in rebounding with six.
Prior to tip-off, Duquesne honored its four final-year players — forward Eric James, center Jordan Robinson, guard Rene Castro-Caneddy and center Chas Brown — in a pregame Senior Day ceremony. James, Robinson, Castro-Caneddy and Brown then joined freshman Eric Williams Jr. in the starting lineup.
Head coach Keith Dambrot explained that starting his final-year players on Senior Day isn’t something that he usually tends to do, but something that he thought was appropriate today, in his first year as Duquesne’s head coach.
“[I] just thought it was a good thing to do for a new team and a new coach, to make sure those guys know how much I appreciate them,” Dambrot said postgame. “I thought for this particular team, it was the right thing to do.”
Sentimentality aside, Duquesne managed to jump out to a quick 10-0 lead while fielding the aforementioned lineup, prompting Davidson coach Bob McKillop to call an early timeout.
The Dukes led for much of the first half, maintaining an edge on the scoreboard until Wildcat forward Will Magarity’s put-back dunk gave Davidson a 27-26 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first half.
Minutes later, Grady scored a layup with six seconds remaining in the half to give the Wildcats a 33-31 lead heading into the halftime break. Through the game’s first 20 minutes of action, Grady had recorded 18 points — three more than the rest of his team had scored combined.
During the intermission, Duquesne honored the Chuck Cooper Foundation, which was represented by Cooper’s son, Chuck Cooper III, who acts as the president and CEO of the foundation. Every year, Duquesne hosts the Chuck Cooper Classic, honoring the Duquesne alumnus who became the first African-American man to be drafted in the NBA in 1950.
The game’s second half was closely contested until Davidson began to distance itself on the scoreboard about midway through the period. The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run from 10:16 to 5:50, giving themselves a 10-point lead that they would not relinquish.
While one might attribute Duquesne’s late-game dry spell to a failure to sink shots, poor shot selection or an effective Davidson defense, Wildcats coach Bob McKillop looked elsewhere: the game’s fatigue factor, and, in his opinion, the abnormally warm temperature inside the A.J. Palumbo Center on Saturday afternoon.
“You might think this is crazy, but I think it was really hot in here,” McKillop told The Duke postgame. “I think the fatigue factor struck both of us, and I think it allowed us to maybe get a couple of pushes [to help us pull away].”
Losers of six straight, Duquesne (15-14, 6-10) has two games remaining on its regular-season schedule before A-10 Tournament play begins at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on March 7.
As far as salvaging what this season has left to offer, Dambrot said that in the short-term, the team needs to continue to work as hard as it can. He hopes that in doing so, he can continue to work toward solidifying the program’s depth through both recruiting efforts and via developing the talent that his team already possesses.
Next for the Dukes are the Saint Louis Billikens (15-13, 8-7), who will visit Palumbo Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Saint Louis took advantage of a poor Duquesne shooting outing in the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 17, a 76-63 Billikens win.