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Niagara's Kahlil Dukes shows off skills in win against Saint Peter's

Niagara University guard Kahlil Dukes left the University of Southern California at the end of the 2015 season looking for a better opportunity.

He originally committed to Kevin O'Neill, but O'Neill and his entire staff had been relieved before he made it to campus. Dukes played minimally in his two seasons with current USC coach Andy Enfield, averaging 6.8 minutes per game and 2.4 points.

With Niagara, especially this year, there's been little reason to ever take Dukes off the floor.

The Hartford, Conn., native is second in scoring (20.8 points per game) in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season, trailing only teammate Matt Scott. He's scored over 20 in 13 of the Purple Eagles' 19 games, including Sunday's 73-70 victory against Saint Peter's.

Dukes showed the completeness of his offensive arsenal against the Peacocks, hitting stepbacks, shots through contact, layups while driving the lane and pull-up and spot-up threes. He shot a team-high seven times from the free-throw line, hitting six. Offensively, there's little he can't do.

"I just try to take what the defense gives me, be able to score at all three levels, inside, midrange and three," Dukes said. "When the defense helps, I've got to find that open guy and trust my teammates. That's been working here."

Perhaps most notably, he hit a pair of three-point shots nearly from the Niagara center logo. Dukes said he saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Peacocks' defense sagging back.

Despite the risky nature of the attempts, Niagara coach Chris Casey said he doesn't mind the deep shots. It comes with the territory with a natural scorer like Dukes.

"I think they're going in every time he shoots it," Casey said. "The thing is with guys who can really score, there's always going to be a questionable one here and there. You've got to live with that, because they have to know that I trust their decisions."

Dukes totaled 21 points, four rebounds and three assists Sunday, helping the Purple Eagles move to 11-8 overall and 4-2 in the MAAC. He scored the final point of the game but his lone missed free throw kept Saint Peter's alive late.

Niagara was up seven points with six minutes remaining, but the Peacocks mounted an 11-4 run in about four minutes to tie the game at 70 with 2 minutes and 9 seconds left on the clock.

Scott, who led the team with 23 points, hit a layup to give Niagara a two-point lead with 1:36  remaining. The Peacocks had two chances down two points to tie or take a lead but failed on both, including an opportunity with the shot clock off and 29.1 seconds to work with.

After a technical was called on Peacocks coach John Dunne, both Dukes and Scott had an opportunity to make it a two-possession game with under 10 seconds remaining. Dukes missed the second of two free throws and Scott missed the first shot of a one-and-one to set up a final chance for Saint Peter's.

Peacocks guard Davauhnte Turner missed a three-point attempt to tie the game with one second remaining, sealing a fourth straight win for the Purple Eagles.

"It wasn't a pretty game, but we did what we do," Casey said. "We stayed tough. We made enough plays to win the game."

The Purple Eagles head to Connecticut this week to play Quinnipiac on Thursday and Fairfield on Saturday.

With the win, Niagara already is two wins away from matching last year's total for MAAC victories. Casey isn't ready to talk about the team proving itself yet, though.

"I feel like I'm going to take the day off tomorrow because we don't have practice and then I'm going to start looking at Quinnipiac," Casey said. "Whatever day you're in, do your work that day and do it the best you can. ... I like the progress our team is making, but there's room to grow."

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