Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor
Duquesne used stout defense and a 12-0 first-half run to beat UC Irvine, 66-62 on Wednesday night. The win moves Duquesne to 5-2 on the season.
The Anteaters entered Wednesday’s clash with a 6-1 record and a win over nationally ranked USC, and are consensus favorites in the Big West Conference. They are one of many mid-major juggernauts Duquesne has set up on their non-conference schedule, and the victory provides Duquesne with a Quad 3 win they missed out on in their 70-67 loss to the now 7-0 Princeton Tigers.
“Them days in the summer just paid off,” said David Dixon. “This win proved to us that everything is falling into place.”
The game started nauseatingly slow, and neither team scored until over four minutes into the game. The teams combined for five turnovers, several airballs and a missed dunk in that span.
Irvine opened with a runthat extended to a 27-16 lead with 8 minutes left in the first half, but a 12-0 run gave 28-27 lead, their first of the game. The Anteaters’ ensuing bucket marked the last time Duquesne trailed all night.
The comeback was sparked by a vicious putback dunk by Dixon, who also finished with five blocks.
“I eat, sleep and dream blocking shots and dunking on people,” Dixon said. “I’m going to sleep really good tonight.”
“I thought he dominated the game at the defensive end,” said Head Coach Keith Dambrot. “He’s just scratching the surface though.”
Offensively, Duquesne’s guards were noticeably more athletic than their California counterparts, which allowed players like Dae Dae Grant and Kareem Rozier to filter possessions through the paint easier than they could against other opponents.
This may have enabled another atypical trend for the Dukes; their scoring distribution. Points were shared throughout the lineup, rather than their normal cluster at the guard position. Nearly 29 minutes passed before Andrei Savrasov became the first Duke to cross the 10-point threshold, a milestone that’s normally achieved in the first half. Dixon was the next to do so, in spite of some misses from up close early on.
“It takes a load off of the two main scorers, knowing that everybody can do something,” Dixon said. “We’re all really good basketball players, and when the opportunity is given to us we are taking full advantage of it.”
However, Irvine was able to climb back to within 3 in the final minute of the game. They had the ball with a chance to tie, but Clark got his hands on the ball, first forcing a jump ball, then tipping a pass to Grant, who hit a pair of free throws. Dixon added two of his own to conclude the scoring and put the game on ice.
The freedom to play so aggressively was because Duquesne remedied their biggest failure in last week’s loss at Nebraska by limiting their fouls. Rozier, Dixon and Clark all picked up at least four fouls against the Cornhuskers, with the ladder pair committing a terminal fifth. On Wednesday, nobody committed more than two.
“A point of emphasis was our discipline. Not taking 10-percent gambles, not reaching in,” Dambrot said. “Not playing so hard that we play like idiots.”
Finally, Duquesne posted its best night of the season from beyond the arc. They shot 9-of-18, led by Andrei Savrasov’s trio of 3s. The remarkable night from their big men had helped open things up outside for Guards to move the ball around. Defensively, they anchored a performance that held the Anteaters to a season low in points.
Dambrot saw the night as one step on the way to developing a well-rounded offense that blends post, paint and guard play.
“We haven’t played inside at all,” Dambrot said. “We don’t have to live and die with it but we have to develop it. You have to get paint touches in some way.”
Savrasov saw it as a breakout game for himself, after a rough patch of performances to start the season, and thanked his coaches for sticking by him.
“Their trust helped me a lot. And hopefully- not hopefully- I know because of the work I put in every day, this game will help me down the stretch to start getting back in my groove and start being the player I know that I can be,” Savrasov said. “I know that I’m at my best but I feel like it was a good sign.”
The performance rewards Dambrot’s decision to keep Savrasov in the starting lineup, despite how frequently he gets overshadowed by performances from bench players.
“Clearly, Fousseyni [Drame] has played better than Andrei to this point,” Dambrot said. “And clearly Dixon has played better than Chabi, but going to need everybody.”
The Dukes will get another week-long break before they travel south to face Marshall on Wednesday, Dec. 6.