DUQ tags La Salle in second half for win

Brentaro Yamane | Staff Photographer | Jimmy Clark III recorded eight assists— one short of his career high —in Duquesne’s victory,

Michael O’Grady | Staff Writer

Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot stresses that his team has fun down the final stretch of the season, and the Dukes certainly had fun Wednesday night when they took down La Salle 75-63 at Cooper Fieldhouse. Winners of three of their last four, Duquesne is now right in the thick of things in the Atlantic-10 Conference standings, holding a three-way tie for fifth place while posting a 7-8 record. Dambrot has been forced to find unconventional strategies to win since the rocky 0-4 A-10 start, but for this particular game?

“We played tag on Monday,” Dambrot said. “Dru [Joyce III] said they play in Europe all the time as a warm-up. So we played two different types of tag. Grown men were laughing, you’d think they would be in first or second grade, but Dru said 30-year-olds in Europe laugh when they play.”

The Explorers weren’t laughing after Duquesne dropped 44 points in the second half to seal the win; the Dukes faced a three-point deficit at halftime. Jimmy Clark III led the way with 22 points and eight assists, five of which went to Dusan Mahorcic, who totaled 13 points. The tag must have had a tangible effect on the Europeans of the roster, as Mahorcic combined with Jakub Necas and Matus Hronsky for 21 points, the most scored in a league game this season by Duquesne’s European players. The Dukes were also strong defensively, forcing 13 turnovers from a normally-careful La Salle team and limiting the Explorers to just seven second-chance points.

The first half was messy, as has been the story with many Duquesne games this season. Offensive rebounds were plenty for both teams, yet neither made much advantage of them. La Salle inched forward first and took an 8-point lead with eight minutes left in the first, their largest of the night. The momentum was already shifting by then, though, as Necas hit a tough 3 shortly before that to bring the home crowd to life. La Salle finished the half up by 3, and neither team had a player who tallied 10 points.

The Dukes came out of the tunnel a changed team, embarking on a 14-2 run that nearly lasted five minutes to start the second half. La Salle hit just two free throws, they missed every shot attempt during the run while the Dukes were propelled by big corner 3-pointer from Clark and Kareem Rozier. La Salle Head Coach and Philadelphia legend Fran Dunphy perhaps unwisely stuck to his normal seven-man rotation— his players started freezing up when faced with open shots.

“Coach emphasized to stop worrying about everything else and just go out and play hard,” Clark said. “That was the main focus going into the second half, and being able to execute plays while doing that. So I feel like we did that.”

Mahorcic credited the players behind the scenes for the turnaround.

“The guys who didn’t play much, or didn’t play at all, they came up and rallied everyone together and said we’ve got to get this W,” he said. “It might not seem like the people on the sidelines and in the stands are doing much, but they lift us up every time we come out of halftime. I’m just really appreciative of them.”

La Salle cut the lead down to single-digits, but they grew cold again near the end of the game, and the Dukes cruised to the win, avenging their loss in the A-10 Tournament last March. Clark may have been remembering that when he capped the game with an emphatic tomahawk slam with 40 seconds to go.

As for this year’s tournament, Dambrot isn’t focused on a particular seed to capture. The A-10’s volatility can result in a wide array of different opponents.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we can get a double bye,” he said, “and everyone else is the damn same, so what’s the difference? Whether you’re seventh or ninth or whatever, I don’t know who’s better for us. Dayton’s probably the best team in the conference, or maybe it’s Loyola. But we just need to play our game, because I watched our tournament game from last year and we stunk.”

Dambrot will get his answer next Saturday, but first the Dukes play their last two road games of the year Saturday at George Mason and Tuesday at VCU. They finish the campaign at home against George Washington for the Chuck Cooper Classic.