James leads Dukes to 74-62 win over Fordham
PITTSBURGH (AP)—The halftime show for Duquesne’s Atlantic 10 opener was a magician who was billed as a fast-change artist.
There was no need for a magic act on this night. Coach Ron Everhart’s quick-change act has transformed the Dukes from one of the nation’s worst Division I teams into a possible conference contender in only two seasons.
Shawn James’ inside play and Reggie Jackson’s outside shooting helped Duquesne open a double-digit lead midway through the first half and the fast-improving Dukes beat Fordham 74-62 on Wednesday night for their 11th victory, one more than a season ago.
The 6-foot-10 James had 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots while repeatedly altering Fordham shots or forcing the Rams to go outside for their offense. Jackson had three 3-pointers during a 15-point game, while Aaron Jackson scored 12 points and freshman Damian Saunders added 10 points and nine rebounds.
James has 60 blocks this season, tying Derrick Alston’s school record set 15 years ago, and 392 for his career. James, a junior and the nation’s leading shot blocker at Northeastern two seasons ago before transferring, needs eight more blocks to become the 18th Division I player with 400 career blocks.
“A player like Shawn makes everybody else better,” Reggie Jackson said.
Everhart’s Dukes (11-2, 1-0) have 15 games remaining, but already have surpassed the 10 wins achieved by last season’s team. Those Dukes overcame the preseason shootings of five players, including James and guards Kojo Mensah and Jackson, to go 10-19—a major upgrade from the 3-24 record of 2005-06.
Duquesne has had only two winning seasons in 27 years, during the 1985-86 and 1993-94 seasons, but is in position to get a third this season.
“It might mean more in some other years, but the conference has three teams in the Top 25 so that doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Everhart said, referring to No. 17 Dayton, No. 22 Rhode Island and No. 24 Xavier. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Beginning Sunday, when the Dukes play at Rhode Island, a 92-82 loser at Dayton on Wednesday night.
“We have a lot to prove,” James said. “We’re trying to become an Atlantic 10 championship team here.”
Fordham (6-7, 0-1), a disappointment so far after being picked to finish fourth in the A-10 following an 18-win season a year ago, dropped its third in four games despite Sebastian Greene’s 20 points, Bryant Dunston’s 19 and Brenton Butler’s 17.
Marcus Stout, who was 6-of-6 on 3-pointers while scoring 26 points in the Rams’ 71-59 decision at Duquesne last season, was held to four points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“I remember last year and I guess we made it a priority to play better defense,” Reggie Jackson said.
Kieron Achara’s basket midway through the first half put the Dukes up 18-7, and they repeatedly held leads in that range the rest of the game. Fordham cut it to 26-21 but Duquesne answered with a 9-1 run late in the half and added a 7-0 run early in the second half to go up by 16, outrebounding the Rams 47-35.
The Rams had won five straight against the Dukes, but never did slow for any extended stretch a team that began the game averaging a conference-leading 88.4 points.
“But I think we are better equipped to play more of a grind-it-out game,” said Everhart, whose team hadn’t been held to as few as 74 points since a 92-68 loss at West Virginia on Dec. 8. “Last year we would have tried to go get 100.”
Everhart modified the two-unit platoon he used at the end of last season and most of this season, shortening his bench to go with more conventional substituting but still relying on full-court pressure that helped force the Rams’ 17 turnovers and 41.4 percent shooting (24-of-58).
“We wanted to make sure our best defenders were out there all the time,” Everhart said.