Against an Eastern Kentucky team that loves to press, Duquesne's Eric Williams Jr. wasn't going to be worn down.
Williams played all but one minute and posted game highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds, and it was his hook shot from just outside the paint with 15 seconds remaining that made the difference as the Dukes came away with an 85-84 overtime win Saturday afternoon at Palumbo Center.
The sophomore, who had been moved to the bench for a few games because of undisclosed disciplinary reasons, showed why the Dukes need him in the lineup by posting his 15th career double-double and fourth of the season. Whatever the issue was previously, coach Keith Dambrot didn't hold it against him tonight, turning loose his best player on the court.
"I didn't think we could win if I didn't play him 44 out of 45 minutes — simple as that," Dambrot said. "I didn't think anybody else really played all that great at his spot, and he's practiced well. Is that ideal? No, but I felt like he was our best player; I needed to play him."
The overtime period was a bit of an outlier from the rest of the game, as regulation ended tied 79-79. Each team had only a pair of baskets until the Dukes (9-3) rebounded the ball with 35 seconds to go. After a timeout, Duquesne ran the clock down before going in motion with a setup designed for Williams.
"Just get stops. We wanted to get stops, even though the offense was kind of stagnant sometimes. We pride ourselves on getting stops, and I think we did that," Williams said. "The last play, we just did a counter play because we had been going to the post all day. It just happened to work."
"The radio people asked me why I didn't go in to (center) Mike Hughes, why Eric?" Dambrot said of the final play. "I just thought we had a little pet play where we could get him on the box. He was playing better than anybody we had, he's one of our best-conditioned guys, and he's a good free-throw shooter. The problem with Mike Hughes, at that point, is he's dead on his feet. He played 26 minutes, he's not a great free-throw shooter. I just thought (Williams) was the best, and I thought the play would go, as well."
Williams also contributed two assists and three steals in the up-and-down game, but even after his go-ahead bucket, the Dukes weren't out of the woods.
Eastern Kentucky (6-6) worked the ball inside to forward Tre King, who went up for his first shot attempt with 7 seconds remaining. The ball caromed around for King to rebound and get a second and third shot attempt before he was finally fouled by Williams with 2.1 on the clock.
"I didn't even know I fouled him, we were just going for it. My legs were giving out. I had cramps, but I was just going for it," Williams said.
King, a freshman and only a 58.8 percent foul shooter, made the first shot, but his second rattled off the back and front of the rim before popping out. Hughes rebounded the miss and launched the ball toward the other end of the court, allowing the final seconds to tick away.
THE BIG THREE
My top performers ...
1. Eric Williams Jr.
It wasn't a stellar shooting night for Williams, who was 7-for-15 from the floor and made 4 of 9 from 3-point range, but he continually found ways to contribute long before his game-winning shot.
2. Tavian Dunn-Martin
Getting his first start at Duquesne at shooting guard, Dunn-Martin had to move over and handle the ball when Sincere Carry fouled out with 4:11 left in regulation. Though his outside shot wasn't falling, he still managed 12 points, including the Dukes' other two overtime baskets.
3. Michael Hughes
Hughes finished with a solid line of 13 points and nine rebounds in his 26 minutes, but he also played a big role in slowing Colonels' big man Nick Mayo. Mayo finished with 18 points, down from his 24.5 per game average.
Carry, Dunn-Martin and Brandon Wade faced a big challenge against the Eastern Kentucky press, and with Carry limited to just 24 minutes while battling foul trouble, it was the latter two — with some help from Williams and Frankie Hughes, who also started — that did enough to limit the damage to 21 turnovers (and only 20 points off those) in 45 minutes of play.
— Matt Grubba (@Matt_Grubba) December 22, 2018
Though their press is based almost entirely in man-to-man principles, the Colonels mixed things up for the Dukes' guards, which is how their press has been so successful.
"You just don't know when they're going to come trap you, basically," Dunn-Martin said. "You dribble the ball up the court and they come up behind you immediately. You're just trying to see where the man is coming from and find the open guy."
In overtime, however, it was Dunn-Martin who had the reigns, and his aggressiveness accounted for all the Dukes' offense in the extra period until Williams' big shot.
"Tavian's been in a lot of games. He's been in NIT games, he's been in MAC Championship games (at Akron). I'm disappointed he didn't make a couple, I thought he had some good looks, but he handled the ball when it mattered," Dambrot said.
"I think (Eastern Kentucky was) in a bit of a dilemma whether to come full bore ahead and open themselves up or play a little more conservatively. Most of the time they played conservatively, but when they did come at us, Tavian just went with it, which is really what you should do. You don't want to be passive, you should just go."
The Dukes' offense, as it did in their loss to Penn State, went through another long dry spell, this time in the first half.
Duquesne had a 10-point lead, 27-17, but proceeded to be outscored 31-9 in a seven-minute stretch near the end of the half. Only by scoring the final six points — thanks, in part, to a flagrant foul that put Frankie Hughes on the line for two free throws and possession — did the Dukes cut the halftime deficit to 48-42.
Looking at the silver lining, it is the Dukes' third victory this season coming back after trailing by 10 or more. But in A-10 play, the Dukes aren't going to be able to survive many spells where they have six turnovers and just two field goals, which was the case during the Colonels' 31-9 run.
As big as Williams' winning shot was, the Dukes don't get there without some good defense by Michael Hughes at the end of regulation.
Eastern Kentucky had the ball under the basket with 2.5 left, and of course, they went to their leading scorer, Mayo, who caught a lob pass on the wing with Hughes playing him man-to-man. Mayo took a dribble and got Hughes in the air, but the Dukes' big man kept his body in control to avoid a foul and still keep a hand in Mayo's face, forcing an off-balance 3-pointer that wasn't close.
In a game with 44 fouls called, the Dukes got the benefit of one that wasn't whistled.
With the clock running and under a minute to go in overtime, the Colonels had possession and tried to force the ball into Mayo cutting through the lane. There, the 6-foot-9 Mayo collided with 5-8 Dunn-Martin, who appeared to be stepping up to take a charge, though Mayo hadn't yet caught the ball.
Rather than call a blocking foul against Dunn-Martin for not allowing the player to catch the pass, no foul was called, and the ball bounced out-of-bounds off Mayo, giving the Dukes what would be their final possession.
THE OTHER SIDE
Eastern Kentucky finally came up short in a close game, as three of their six wins have been by two points or fewer. Still, with games like today's and losses at then-No. 12 Kansas State, then-No. 6 Tennessee and Xavier, the Colonels have seen it all entering Ohio Valley Conference action.
The Dukes wrap up their non-conference schedule Dec. 31 with another tough home game New Jersey Institute of Technology (11-2), a relatively new Division I member expected to make some noise this season as a geographically inappropriate member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
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