Dukes’ Necas riding momentum in March

Dylan Fister | Staff Photographer

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

OMAHA, NE— Unlikely heroes are what make March Madness beautiful. Names like Max Abmas, Doug Edert and Steph Curry became ingrained in America’s hearts because they led a Cinderella story with superhuman performances on the biggest stage. Victorious underdogs like Duquesne are primed for these sorts of stories, and there certainly was one in their upset win over BYU on Thursday.

Jakub Necas was the unlikeliest of the unlikely.

The freshman from the Czech Republic played the greatest game of his career to deliver Duquesne to its first NCAA Tournament win since 1969. He scored 12 points while tallying three blocks and five rebounds, all of which were career highs.

He’s played in all 34 games for Duquesne, but BYU was the first time he played more than half of one. His 30 minutes play time exceeded his previous career high by 10, testing him in ways the rigors of a regular season didn’t, but he came out a star.

Necas’ emergence wasn’t a surprise to anyone who watched the Atlantic-10 tournament. In the four games in Brooklyn, his season-long evolution turned into an explosion. He says riding that hot streak gave him the confidence to command Duquesne in Omaha.

“I felt like I had good momentum in the [A-10] tournament,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep going, just play basketball and enjoy every moment because nobody expected us to be here.”

However, even Necas was surprised at the extent of his success in the front court in the Round of 64.

“I [didn’t] really expect it,” he said. “I just felt that I am helping the position when Coach gives me the opportunity. So, I’m trying to give my best, basically.”

Despite offensive struggles, Head Coach Keith Dambrot has leaned on Necas as a defensive specialist. His height and long arms allow him to quickly get a hand in passing lanes or opponents’ personal space. He pairs that with a level of physicality and strength associated with the professional circuit in Europe. Against a team like BYU, he was the perfect anecdote to their fast-paced, spread out style. He covered enough ground that it forced the opponent to slow down in order to move the ball around him.

Because of that, nobody was surprised by Necas’ defensive excellence. What was an utter shock was the fact that he was the Dukes’ second leading scorer. In his previous career high 10 points versus St. Joseph’s in February he hit his first career 3-pointer, which sent the bench into a frenzy. Today, he drained a pair of them on only three attempts.

Dambrot credits Necas’ recent success to the freshman’s work ethic, which he developed while playing professional ball.

“[Jakub] and Matúš [Hrosnky] are the first ones in the gym every single day, an hour ahead of time,” Dambrot said. “He didn’t shoot well most of the season. When you put time in and have that kind of ability, good things are going to happen.”

Jimmy Clark III continued to laud the work ethic of role players like Necas.

“Even when they weren’t getting what they wanted at the beginning of the season … these guys stuck through it and did it every single day,” he said. “And it’s showing up today.”

With as little experience as he has, Necas said that he draws on his defense for confidence on offense. 

“For me, offense kind of goes from my defensive side,” he said. “I try to get energy from the defensive side, from the blocks, from the rebounds also. When I’m open, I’m trying to shoot and just make good shots. That’s all.”

As for the play time, that’s something Necas is going to have to get used to.

“I was kind of tired … in the end, to be honest,” he said. “I felt like I don’t really prepare for these types of games from day to day.”

Dambrot said he thinks endurance will just be another area that Necas improves over the course of his career.

“If you ever watch him work out, I’ve never seen a guy work out as hard as he does,” Dambrot said. “He’s prepared for this. He’s a professional.”

On Saturday, Duquesne will face third-seeded Illinois, presenting Necas and his teammates with another opportunity to make a name for themselves.