David Borne | Sports Editor
It takes the perfect balance of aggression and discipline to block a shot.
The defender must find a way to bring a sufficient amount of force to shutdown a shot attempt, but needs to remain calm enough to not be whistled for a foul.
Duquesne’s Mike Hughes has mastered that skill.
“It’s all timing to be honest,” Hughes said. ”It’s all instincts and timing. It’s knowing the time and place of the game. It’s knowing when it’s the right time to try to go make a play and whenever it isn’t so you don’t go make a foul.”
Entering Wednesday night’s game at Rhode Island, Hughes ranked fifth in the nation in blocks per game.
The 6’8” center denies an average of 3.18 shot opportunities per contest.
Hughes came up with four or more blocked shots in four of Duquesne’s first five Atlantic 10 matchups. He posted a season-high seven blocks on Jan. 2 at Saint Louis.
The redshirt junior’s abilities fit perfectly into Keith Dambrot’s system. Dambrot, who is known for running a very defensive minded style of play, has coached plenty of talented post players.
But when it comes to shot blocking ability, he ranks Hughes as one of the best he’s been around.
“I’d say [Hughes] and Zeke Marshall are by far the two best shot blockers,” Dambrot said. “The kid that’s at Utah Valley now, Emmanuel Olojakpoke, he’s up there, as well. He was with us at Akron. But those two are probably the two best that I’ve ever had.”
Hughes may be known for his thunderous rejections, but his skill set isn’t limited to the defensive end of the court.
The redshirt junior is averaging just over 10 points per game, posting a field goal percentage right below 59%.
Despite his contributions on offense, Hughes still prides himself on his defensive efforts. For the center, coming up with a big block is one of the best feelings he can have on the court.
If given the choice between securing a win by burying a clutch basket, or by recording a big rejection at the buzzer, he’d choose the block everytime.
“I’ve been bred a defensive guy. So whenever you seal the game with a big block — it stings. It’s known. So me, personally, I’m a big block guy to finish out a game.”
As a team, Duquesne’s defensive play has been largely responsible for the team’s hot start this season.
Hughes and his teammates have been able to smother their opposition by consistently giving their all on defense.
With everyone on the same page, Hughes knows Duquesne’s early season success can continue. The whole team is locked in on both ends of the floor, willing to do anything they can to pull out a positive result.
“It’s just all the guys doing work,” Hughes said. “Guys just want to get better, guys just want to do great things. That’s the biggest thing. Guys feel their purpose, and we all want to get wins.”
With Hughes and his teammates getting Duquesne off to its best start since 1971-72, it may seem easy for the team to be satisfied with how things are going. However, the group knows this is only the beginning. With plenty of basketball yet to be played, Hughes only has one goal for the remainder of the season: Winning an Atlantic 10 championship and making an NCAA tournament appearance.
“It’s all about what we are going to do next,” Hughes said. “We don’t like to worry about what’s happened in the past.”