Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
The last time the Saint Louis Billikens visited Pittsburgh, they stunned Duquesne with an 18-point come-from-behind win in the first round of the 2017 Atlantic 10 Tournament at PPG Paints Arena. It was a heartbreaking conclusion to a miserable season on the Bluff.
Fast forward to Spring 2018, and a lot has changed. Both teams were among the A-10’s cellar dwellers last season, but each have rebounded nicely this year.
Saint Louis is vying for a potential bye in the upcoming conference tournament, while Duquesne is looking to finish with its first winning record since the 2011-12 season.
Another thing that’s changed since that devastating loss last March is Duquesne’s ability to win close games. While they haven’t played their best basketball recently, going 2-8 in their last 10 games prior to their matchup with the Billikens, this Dukes team has proven to be more resilient than teams in year’s past.
After letting a 12-point lead disappear late in the first half, Duquesne bounced back with a strong start in the second half as Mike Lewis II provided 10 quick points to open the frame. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that nine of those points came on 3-pointers.
Duquesne fans know by now that “Microwave Mike” is one of the A-10’s most electrifying players. As fans saw tonight, he can change the momentum of the game in a matter of seconds.
Lewis II’s usual partner in crime, Eric Williams Jr., was superb as well. He posted yet another double-double, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Saint Louis on Feb. 28.
Williams Jr.’s outstanding performance was not just impressive, but also record-setting. The first-year standout tied the Duquesne freshman double-double record and set the school’s freshman 3-pointer record in his big game against the Billikens.
However, while Lewis II and Williams Jr. might be the stars of this year’s squad, it was freshman Tydus Verhoeven who proved to be Duquesne’s MVP against the Billikens.
The big man didn’t miss any of his seven shot attempts and missed only one of his eight free throws, ultimately finishing the night with a game- and career-high 21 points.
His stat line might have come as a surprise to many, but coach Keith Dambrot seemed to be expecting a big game from Verhoeven.
“He doesn’t know how good he is,” Dambrot said.
Dambrot elaborated by explaining that if Verhoeven plays with more faith in himself, performances like these should become more commonplace.
“Thinking you’re great is a good thing … You have to think you’re great because if you don’t, you’re never going to be great,” Dambrot added.
Verhoeven agreed with Dambrot’s analysis, crediting his play to better personal composure.
“Today felt like one of the first days where I’ve truly relaxed,” Verhoeven said.
While Duquesne has been sliding in the standings recently, the win over Saint Louis was proof that the Dukes are on the rise.
The Dukes shot 56.5 percent from the field on the night, their highest mark thus far this year. This victory also gave Duquesne its most home wins in A.J. Palumbo Center history with 13.
Overall, it was a great night for Duquesne. The performances of Verhoeven and Williams Jr. showed why the future is bright. Multiple records were broken, and much to the relief of Dambrot, the losing streak was ended.
“I just wanted to win. I was so sick of losing,” Dambrot said following the game. “I didn’t know if I could take another one, to be honest.”
Even in a season where expectations have already been exceeded, it was tough for fans to watch the Dukes lose six in a row. However, this win could prove to be some much-needed momentum headed into the final stretch of the season for Duquesne.
“We’ve lost a lot of close ones, but at least we rallied ourselves tonight,” Dambrot said. “Hopefully we can win another one and not have to play on that first night [of the upcoming A-10 Tournament].”
The Dukes close out the regular season on March 3 at Massachusetts. After that, they’ll head to Washington, D.C. to play in the A-10 Tournament.