Dukes swipe unexpected road victory

Saunders deflates 49ers' momentum early in second half

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You don't have to watch Damian Saunders for too long to appreciate him -- just ask Charlotte.

It was that way again Wednesday, when he personally grabbed Charlotte's building momentum and tossed it out of Halton Arena, swinging a game Duquesne wasn't expected to win.

Duquesne took an 83-77 Atlantic 10 Conference victory back to Pittsburgh, and much of the credit for that belongs to Saunders, the Dukes' 6-foot-7 do-everything junior. With his team down, 50-40, and less than three minutes gone in the second half, Saunders stole the ball, took off downcourt and jammed it.

So Charlotte brought the ball up the floor again and Saunders stole it again, pitching it ahead to Melquan Bolding for a breakaway layup.

After Saunders just missed a third consecutive steal on a ball on its way out of bounds, the rattled 49ers turned it over on their own, and Duquesne was on its way to a 16-1 run over the next 5 1/2 minutes. The Dukes would never again relinquish the lead.

Charlotte (18-7, 8-3 A-10) cut the gap to three points twice in the final five minutes and to two in the final 30 seconds, but the Dukes (14-12, 5-7) hung on to their third road victory in 11 games.

It was sealed with 22.5 seconds remaining, when reserve guard Jason Duty converted two free throws to push the margin back to four.

In addition to his remarkable game-changing burst, Saunders made an impact in almost every category. He finished with 11 points, 6 blocks, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and those 2 critical steals.

It's the kind of stat line he turns in in most games -- except in the rebounding department, where he entered averaging 12.2.

This time, though, Saunders had some unexpected help. After Charlotte spent the first half mashing the ball inside to bulky Shamari Spears (13 of his 20 points) and taking an 11-rebound edge into the break, Duquesne coach Ron Everhart gave more time to 7-foot, 270-pound freshman center Morakinyo "Mike" Williams.

"Mike did a great job on Shamari," said Duquesne swing man Bill Clark, who hit four 3-pointers among his 18 points after making two from behind the arc in January. "Obviously when I was guarding him, he was killing me."

Williams and Saunders teamed to shut down the 49ers -- especially Spears -- in the post, cutting off Charlotte's high-low game and enabling the Dukes to take charge. Williams would finish with career highs of 9 rebounds and 8 points, garnished with a 1 block, 1 steal and 1 assist.

"He certainly had one of his best games," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said.

That all followed a meeting with Everhart last week when Williams, averaging less than two points and rebounds a game, asked his coach to allow him to do more for the team.

Consider it done.

"He got Spears in the second half for us," Everhart said. "I thought that was the difference in the game. He acted like a big goalie back there, took away some easy ones for them."

Duquesne, having won five of its past eight after a dismal start, plays at home at 1 p.m. Sunday, in an A-10 meeting against Dayton.


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