MBB opens A-10 play with two road contests

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Jackie Johnson III, pictured during a Nov. 15 game against Weber State, scored a career-high-tying 27 points in Saturday’s road win over Massachusetts. Johnson also scored 27 in the Nov. 15 contest.

Luke Henne | Sports Editor

Jan. 13, 2022

After having four games either canceled or postponed due to Covid-19 issues, the Duquesne men’s basketball team returned to the court this week after nearly three weeks off, opening up Atlantic 10 Conference action with road games against Massachusetts (Saturday) and Fordham (Wednesday).

Behind a combined 48 points from Jackie Johnson III and Primo Spears, the Dukes defeated the Minutemen 78-74 Saturday to earn their first conference victory of the campaign, while simultaneously earning their first road win over Massachusetts since Feb. 16, 2011.

The Dukes trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, but a jumper from Johnson with 1:12 remaining in the half gave Duquesne a lead it would hold on to for the remainder of the game.

Head Coach Keith Dambrot said that his team started “sluggishly,” but was proud of the way they adjusted.

“We turned up our defensive intensity in the second part of the first half, which really changed the game and gave us confidence and kind of electrified us on offense,” Dambrot said.

Johnson, whose 27 points tied a career-high mark that was previously set on Nov. 15, received high praise from Dambrot after the win.

“When you have talent and you put in hard work and you’re coachable, good [stuff] happens,” Dambrot said. “We’ve got a good relationship. He hasn’t always liked how it’s went, but he’s trusted me, and usually when guys that have talent like that trust me, good stuff happens. He played unbelievable.”

Dambrot added that the key to Johnson’s success is his relentless work ethic.

“It hasn’t been easy for him, but I can tell you this,” Dambrot said. “I’ve coached, I don’t know, damn near 40 years … and I can’t say that I’ve had anyone who worked any harder than him.”

Despite not starting in each of Duquesne’s first 10 games, Johnson stayed optimistic. His efforts have earned him a spot in the starting lineup in each of the last three games.

“My mom always tells me to stay the course. This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Johnson said.

Johnson was thankful for his head coach’s praise of him, knowing that his hard work is starting to produce tangible results.

“It means everything to me,” Johnson said. “[Putting in the work] is something that I choose to do and that I want to do. [That’s a] huge compliment that does really mean a lot to me.”

Wednesday’s game at Fordham came down to the final seconds, as the Rams’ Antonio Daye Jr. hit a go-ahead shot with three seconds left to help the Rams secure a 72-71 victory over the Dukes.

The loss snapped Duquesne’s six-game winning streak against Fordham. It was also the first time the Dukes lost a road contest against the Rams since Feb. 12, 2013.

Duquesne led by as many as 13 points in the first half, thanks in large part to 11 points from Johnson. The Dukes ultimately took a seven-point (40-33) lead into the locker room at halftime.

Fordham countered with its own stretch of momentum, going up by as many as eight points with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.

After the teams traded scoring plays down the stretch, Spears hit a step-back jumper to give Duquesne a 71-70 lead with 33 seconds left. The shot also helped Spears get to the 20-point mark. He finished as the Dukes’ leading scorer, while Johnson and Leon Ayers III each finished with 13 points.

On Fordham’s ensuing possession, two go-ahead shot attempts were blocked by Duquesne’s Tre Williams, who finished the game with seven blocks. Fordham’s Chuba Ohams managed to get a rebound following Williams’ second block, and the Rams were able to call a timeout and set up a designed play with 13 seconds remaining.

Out of the timeout, Darius Quisenberry failed to hit rim on a 3-point attempt, and the Rams fouled Kevin Easley Jr. and sent him to the free-throw line for a one-and-one opportunity with nine seconds left.

However, Easley missed the free throw, allowing Fordham to grab the rebound en route to Daye’s game-winning layup. Johnson attempted a game-winning 3-pointer from half court as time expired, but his shot came up well short.

After two consecutive road games to start the conference portion of the schedule, four of the Dukes’ next five games will be played within the confines of UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.

That stretch will start with a meeting with Dayton on Saturday afternoon in a game that will be broadcast nationally on USA Network.

The Dukes have lost 10 of their last 13 meetings with the Flyers. The last meeting between the two teams was on Feb. 2, 2021, when Duquesne won 69-64 in the team’s first game at the fieldhouse since March 9, 2019.