Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Feb. 2, the day before Duquesne’s home matchup with St. Bonaventure’s, men’s basketball head coach Keith Dambrot told reporters that he was expecting “a big crowd” for the Annual Red Out Game. Well, he got just that.
3,411 fans, a season high, watched Duquesne fall just short against the visiting Bonnies, 84-81.
“Great crowd, terrific. If we get that kind of crowd every night, we become relevant again in college basketball,” Dambrot said.
The average attendance at Palumbo Center this season has been 1,557. Prior to Saturday’s game, the previous high had been 2,543, set on Jan. 20 versus George Mason.
The Dukes were admittedly inspired by the crowd. Junior guard Tarin Smith, who led Duquesne with 24 points on the night, made sure to thank the fans for their enthusiasm, saying, “We appreciate the crowd, the fans coming out… I wish I could thank all of them personally.”
It was indeed a boisterous environment, but the Dukes ultimately lost on a late 3-pointer by St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams. Adams, a potential NBA prospect, led both sides with 40 points, setting a new Palumbo Center opponent scoring record.
While Dambrot made it clear that there were no excuses for the poor defensive performance on behalf of the Dukes, he praised the skill of Adams.
“He made pull-up jump shots, he made threes. And then he also made drives,” Dambrot said.
“He’s good, supposedly the best player in the league, best guard in the league.”
While the defense struggled, giving up 11 3-pointers and allowing the Bonnies to shoot 48.4 percent from the field, the offense certainly did its part, making nearly 56 percent of its field goals.
The backcourt played especially well. In addition to a phenomenal performance from Smith, graduate student Rene Castro-Caneddy had 21 points, and sophomore Mike Lewis II had 11.
Nevertheless, the Dukes couldn’t outgun the Bonnies. Smith hit a 3-point shot to tie the game at 81 with 27 seconds remaining, but the Bonnies responded. Adams made what would prove to be the game-winning shot with just seconds left, and a buzzer-beating heave from Eric Williams Jr. clanked off the rim to dramatically end the game.
As time expired, Smith sat on the hardwood, visibly disheartened by the loss. Losing on a last second 3-pointer is always a tough way to fall at home, especially in front of a crowd as great as the one that came out on Saturday.
“[We’re] sorry we couldn’t get it done for them… but we appreciate it more than they know it,” Smith said after the game when asked about the fan turnout.
The loss was undoubtedly difficult for the Dukes, but the team showed why so many fans are becoming increasingly optimistic about the future. The Duquesne men continue to fight hard to the finish, making every game an exciting one.
As Dambrot asked, “You didn’t see them quit, did you?”
Coach Dambrot was not the only one who noticed the team’s effort.
Duquesne fans witnessed passionate and frequently skillful play from the Dukes, and they responded. After every basket, the sea of red erupted. Following every foul, rowdy fans made sure the referees knew how they felt about the call.
Simply put, it was a terrific environment for college basketball. It was easily the most exciting night of the season, maybe even of the past few years. The Dukes might still have a long way to go to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but at the very least, they are becoming relevant again. In a city captivated by the Steelers and Penguins, the Duquesne men are stealing some attention. Saturday night proved that.
Coach Dambrot summed things up perfectly, saying, “I’m not going to let it [the loss] rain on my parade… Who would’ve (sic) thunk Duquesne could be one of the better teams in the league?”
At 15-10, Duquesne is holding their own in the competitive Atlantic 10 Conference. Despite hard, close losses recently, they continue to play an exciting brand of basketball. Their last five games have been decided by a collective margin of just 18 points. Two of those games also went to overtime.
In a year where the Dukes have already exceeded expectations, they have proven to be a thrilling and gutsy team. Their effort clearly proves it, as they give it their all until the final buzzer sounds.
“They [the fans] might as well come to the game. They’re going to see some good stuff,” said Dambrot. He added, “It’s fun, isn’t it?”
Considering the tenacity of this team and the bright future ahead, there are plenty of reasons to return to see the Dukes in action this year — and especially in years to come.