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SLU falls flat at Duquesne in Atlantic 10 opener

SLU falls flat at Duquesne in Atlantic 10 opener

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The Billikens and Salukis battle at Chaifetz Arena

Billikens Hasahn French is guarded by Salukis Lance Jones and Barret Benson in the first half on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, during the game between the St. Louis Billikens and the Southern Illinois Salukis at the Chaifetz Arena. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Essentially homeless for the season, Duquesne players wandered into the UPMC Events Center for the first time Thursday night just as St. Louis University did.

Both teams then shot in the first half as if they were adjusting to something they’d never seen on the campus of Robert Morris University.

But the Dukes certainly got comfortable in the second half as they shot 65% and pulled away from the Billikens for a 73-59 win in the Atlantic 10 opener for both teams. SLU’s second-half defense was only the beginning of the issues coach Travis Ford had with what he called his team’s worst performance of the season.

“I told them with the game on the line in the second half, for them to shoot 65% is not how you respond in a close game,” Ford said. “It’s uncalled for. It’s unnecessary. It’s disappointing. That’s not how we play.”

The offense was just as bad this time as SLU (11-3 overall, 0-1 in the A-10) shot poorly from every spot on the floor.

Hasahn French didn’t get his first field goal until Duquesne had opened an 11-point lead with 11:20 remaining. The Billikens made seven of 18 free throws. They had nine shots blocked, including seven by Michael Hughes. And they struggled mightily to convert in transition.

“They came out ready to play and played tough,” French said. “I feel we beat ourselves. There was a lot we could have controlled that we didn’t take control of. There were places we could have taken control and decided not to do that.”

• BOX SCORE: Duquesne 73, SLU 59

The displaced Dukes, whose arena is being renovated, were playing a home game at a third arena in two months, having previously had games at PPG Paints Arena and at La Roche University.

SLU suffered its sixth consecutive regular-season loss at Duquesne, which had lost its previous two games. Forward Marcus Weathers led the Dukes (11-2, 1-0) with 26 points and nine rebounds.

The anticipated return of Fred Thatch Jr. did not materialize as he remained out of uniform while dealing with a muscular disease. The remaining players who have performed so well together went flat.

“We didn’t get much from anybody,” Ford said. “Jordan (Goodwin) played pretty hard. Other than that … Duquesne was very good, and we didn’t play very well. I thought it was the worst we’ve played all year, even Seton Hall. We went on too many blank runs offensively. We put too much pressure on ourselves.”

Duquesne did defensively what many SLU opponent have employed by playing tight in the lane to neutralize French and reduce penetration. The Billikens responded by shooting poorly from the perimeter, making French’s job even tougher.

Tay Weaver made three 3-pointers but the team was six for 20. Since making a program-record 17 3s against Tulane, the Billikens have hit 23 of 88 (26%).

The Dukes started the second half with a 16-6 run to open a 44-31 lead. The Billikens were able to get as close as 52-48 on two putbacks by Terrence Hargrove Jr., but never threatened after that.

“We can’t let this get to us,” Hargrove said. “They deserved that game. We couldn’t sustain a run. We have to go home and get better.”

SLU appeared to have a chance to deliver a quick blow as Duquesne started the game ice cold, and the Billikens were dominating on the glass. But after holding the Dukes scoreless the first four minutes, the first half was tight.

SLU improved its shooting to 44% in the second half to finish at 36%, but the Billikens made only three of 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes.

The offense was running so poorly that Ford turned to walk-on Joshua Hightower for more than six minutes, looking for something that might work.

“He’s been terrific in practice and all the coaches have been pushing me to play him, not necessarily because of anyone else but he deserves it,” Ford said. “When things aren’t going well, you try things. I was trying to get better shots because we couldn’t get good shots.”

The Billikens have two home games before going on the road again. They return to action Sunday against Massachusetts.

“We can’t go into a slump,” French said. “I know from losing four (consecutive) games last year where it can go very fast. We all have to be better and we will be.”

SLU DECADE IN REVIEW

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