Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Jan. 28, 2021
Following a disappointing letdown against St. Bonaventure over the weekend, the Duquesne men’s basketball team throttled Fordham on Wednesday evening en route to its largest margin of victory ever in an Atlantic 10 road game.
The Dukes (5-6, 4-5 A-10) hit a season-high 14 3-pointers and shot 50% from the floor against the Rams (1-8, 1-8), who struggled in their first game following the departure of coach Jeff Neubauer.
Freshman Chad Baker scored a career-high 23 points and frontcourt duo Marcus Weathers and Mike Hughes each posted double-doubles, propelling a Duquesne team that led by as many as 35 points in the 86-62 thrashing.
The victory was Duquesne’s most complete of the campaign — a welcomed reprieve for a team that has struggled to score the ball this season. The Dukes entered Wednesday’s matchup as the conference’s second-lowest scoring team, ahead of only lowly Fordham. Seven 3-pointers from Baker and two each from Weathers, Tyson Acuff and Mike Bekelja helped Duquesne build a lead that would put the game out of reach by halftime.
Baker, a 6-foot-7 freshman from the Dominican Republic, enjoyed quite the 21st birthday on Wednesday evening. The freshman wing hit 7-of-11 of his 3-point attempts against the Rams — becoming the third freshman in DU history to hit seven or more 3-pointers in a game — before coach Keith Dambrot serenaded him in the locker room after the game with his very own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’
Despite Baker’s prolific shooting performance, Dambrot insisted Baker is still underachieving and won’t begin to realize his full potential until he starts to take more pride in the little things.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” Dambrot said postgame. “He’s a guy that should be the best defender, should be the best passer, should be the best ball-handler, should be the best shooter. And as crazy as it sounds, he’s underachieving.
“I have high expectations for talented people. … When he finally decides he’s going to work at this game and put everything he has into it, you’ll see something even better than this. He’s got good instincts, and he’s confident as hell.”
Baker, who left his native Dominican Republic for the United States prior to his junior year of high school, said he’s grateful for Dambrot’s criticisms.
“When I first got to Duquesne, [Dambrot] literally told me this: ‘Do you want to be great?’ I’m like, ‘Coach, I left everything back home to make it. Do what you gotta do to take me to that next level.’ And if it’s to yell in my face — even when I’m right — I’m going to take it, because at the end of the day, he just wants me to become better,” Baker said. “I cannot take that personally.”
At any rate, Baker’s recent emergence as a scoring threat has been a positive development for the Dukes, who have struggled offensively since the departures of three starters (guards Sincere Carry and Lamar Norman Jr. entered the transfer portal; wing Maceo Austin stepped away from the program for personal reasons and hasn’t played since Jan. 5).
Fellow freshmen Acuff and Bekelja — both of which have struggled to impact Duquesne’s offense since their arrivals on campus — made strides against the Rams, scoring 11 and six points, respectively. Acuff, a stocky point guard, looked comfortable with the ball in his hands against Fordham, a positive development for a team suddenly in dire need of playmakers. Bekelja, who started for the first time in his collegiate career on Wednesday, added six rebounds in his 27 minutes of action.
It was the stellar play of Weathers and Hughes, though, that may be the game’s foremost takeaway. The veteran tandem combined for 32 points and 23 boards on Wednesday, marking the first time since a Nov. 15, 2019, win over Lipscomb that both forwards posted double-doubles.
COVID-19-related postponements and cancelations have proven to be detrimental for Duquesne’s conditioning efforts, with Dambrot stating on numerous occasions that his team was not where it needed to be conditioning-wise. Weathers, who spent the summer away from Pittsburgh to tend to family matters, was one of those most affected by the pandemic’s ramifications. Only now is the slashing forward beginning to look like his customary self.
Hughes’ strong play as of late — the center averaged 14.6 points on 70% shooting in the three games prior to Wednesday’s shellacking — coupled with Weathers’ promising outing in the Bronx should bode well for the Dukes, who are now set for a Saturday showdown against conference cellar-dweller Saint Joseph’s (1-13, 0-8).
“We have to use [this win] to catapult into becoming a better team, a more consistent team,” Dambrot said. “A team that starts to believe in themselves a little bit. I mean, obviously we had to have some self-doubt — me included.
“We’re playing a bunch of guys that haven’t played,” the fourth-year coach continued. “The thing I did know is [we can play] with everybody in the league. I know we’re competitive. It’s just — I didn’t know if we could win consistently. You just don’t know until you make strides.
“Now, I really believe if everything goes right, if we can show some maturity, we grow up, we can do some good things.”
This post was last updated Jan. 28, 2021 at 2:45 a.m. EST.