Matthew Theodros | Staff Writer
Last week, Keith Dambrot opened his press conference with expletive-ridden rants. This week, it started with his new, well-fitting pants.
Duquesne’s head coach says it was the first time this season he didn’t wear a pair of plain khakis, instead opting for some darker threads. He joked that his fashion choice was responsible for the team’s breaking their five-game losing streak with a gritty 54-50 win over St. Bonaventure. Then, he took a lap around his table to show them off to the media.
Duquesne led 22-15 after an ugly first half that Dambrot compared to “mud wrestling”.
It was the fewest points Duquesne has ever given up in a half under Dambrot, and 3 shy of the fewest they’ve scored.
Duquesne took its biggest lead of the contest with exactly five minutes remaining following a 3 from freshman guard Jake DiMichele to put the Dukes up 49-33.
The Bonnies went on a 9-0 run fueled by sloppy turnovers and wasted possessions to cut the lead to 49-42. With under a minute remaining and the Dukes having a 50-47 lead, the home team was in dire need of a stop with their offense stagnating and Bonaventure carrying all the momentum.
The game came down to a huge defensive stop from senior guard Jimmy Clark III, stealing the ball with 40 seconds remaining.
Clark and freshman forward Jakub Necas iced the game with four free throws in the final seconds to give Duquesne a much-needed win.
“It was a shame how the game ended,” Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot said. “We played really good defensively for 95% of the game. We just had the jitters, the yips a little bit in the last four minutes. But we survived and advanced.”
A key aspect of the Dukes defensive efforts was how the team disrupted the Bonnies post play and contained their leading scorer Chad Venning. Venning, a 14 ppg scorer, was held to a season-low six points on 2-of-7 shooting.
While the defense proved to be pivotal, the offense struggled as it has in their previous contests. The Dukes finished the match shooting an underwhelming 30.6% from the field and 56.7% from the free throw line.
“If you look on KenPom, we’re the worst offensive team in the league. The numbers don’t lie,” Dambrot said. “I don’t think we ARE that bad, but we’ve BEEN that bad.
Top scorer Dae Dae Grant missed his third game in concussion protocol. In his absence, Duquesne has struggled to put up points, but found unique ways to create shots up and down the lineup on Tuesday. Nobody reached double figures, but nine different players scored.
It marks the first time Duquesne failed to have a player reach double figures in scoring since Jan. 28, 2015, at Richmond.
Of all of the players, DiMichele took the starting guard spot and had an immense presence on the floor Tuesday night. Ending the contest with two blocks and three steals, those impressive stats do not reflect his efforts contesting long rebounds and as an off-ball defender.
The game was defined by its high-level plays which gave energy to the home team. One of which occurred at the 15:34 minute mark when David Dixon stole the ball on a fast break and Dambrot called a timeout which caused the crowd and players to erupt.
“That was it, that was the moment,” Rozier said. “I am so proud of Dave man. He has come so far. I was so happy because I feel like that changed the game in terms of just energy and grit and being physical and tough.”
Coming off the bench, Matúš Hronský gave the Dukes a needed boost. His versatile play and ability to guard multiple positions allowed Dambrot to use different lineups. He finished the contest with 6 points, four rebounds, and a team-high four assists.
“He’s a talented guy,” Dambrot said. “He’s 6-foot-8, can handle the ball, he can pass it, he knows how to play. He went through some things, but he’s rallied himself. He’s a good player.”
The five-game losing streak heading into Tuesday was obviously at the center of conversation regarding this Duquesne basketball team. Heartbreaking losses in the last 30 seconds against Richmond and Saint Joseph’s had the Dukes reeling. When they finally closed out a win, the collective sigh of relief could have toppled an oak tree.
Dambrot said as much.
“Well, I guess we’re not dead yet,” he said matter-of-factly.
The team remained resilient regardless of these recent losses and any noise dismissing them. Following the loss against Dayton, following the game Rozier set out to prove that the naysayers’ opinions do not matter and that the true praise goes to the fans.
“Those people that were here today: I’m thankful for you all,” Rozier said. “We ain’t going away. We are still here. We jumpstart it now. We own the road to greatness. That’s all we need, just to get one.”
The Dukes return home on Saturday to face Fordham at 12:30 p.m. at Cooper Fieldhouse.