Dukes secure first upset of March Madness

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor 

OMAHA, NE— Nobody would have blamed Duquesne if it came out cold on Thursday. The Dukes were fresh off an emotional run to the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament title and learned on Monday that Head Coach Keith Dambrot would be retiring at the end of the season. They spent 32 hours in Pittsburgh before flying to Omaha for what would be the biggest game in many of their careers. Their opponent, Brigham Young University, was considered the 17th-best team in the country. The Dukes were almost 10-point underdogs.

Nobody told Duquesne.

Like they have over and over again in March, the Dukes shocked the college basketball world, coming away with a 71-67 victory that will propel the program into the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1969.

After controlling the Cougars for 60 minutes with stifling defense, Duquesne won the game at the charity stripe. With the game tied at 60 and 1:44 remaining, 9 of the Dukes’ final 11 points came off free-throws, and they only missed once in that span. However, it was that miss that set Duquesne up for victory.

With Duquesne leading 63-60 and 44 seconds on the clock, Jimmy Clark III missed his second free throw, and the ensuing BYU possession would have given it an opportunity to tie the game. But that didn’t happen. Clark dove for the loose ball, colliding with Fousseyni Drame and a BYU player on the ground to secure a jump ball, keeping the ball with the Dukes. Clark finished the possession with a layup.

BYU kept the pace offensively. But Duquesne kept sending 95% free-throw shooter Dae Dae Grant to the line, who calmly iced the game.

It continues a run of games for the Dukes that have come down to the final moments, something Dambrot feels they have been gearing up for all season. 

“Nothing has come easy for this group,” he said. “We’ve had to do it the hard way. We were running uphill all year, just trying to get to .500 in the league.”

Like they did versus Dayton and VCU, the Dukes got off to a flying hot start. They jumped out to leads of 12-2 and 17-7 but could have grown even larger if several close-range shots had fallen. 

However, like the Dayton and VCU games, once BYU’s cold shooting streak ended, the shot-happy Cougars climbed back to a 20-19 lead. Unphased, Duquesne responded with a run of its own. Steals and a 3-pointer from the ultra-hot Jakub Necas sprung the Dukes back out to a 38-30 halftime lead. Necas has been building personal momentum lately, evolving from a sparing role player at the beginning of the season to somebody who played 30 minutes today.

“I’m just trying to keep going, just play basketball and enjoy every moment because nobody expected us to be here,” he said.

It was Necas’ defensive skills, however, that made him Duquesne’s star. Standing 6-foot 8-inches with long arms, Necas was able to stretch BYU’s offense and never let it move comfortably if he was in the area. Despite having enough athleticism to keep up with the Cougars’ pace, Necas had enough muscle on him to hold his own in the paint, where he and Drame excelled as rim protectors. 

“[Fousseyni] is an absolute beast,” Dambrot said. “Nobody is going to out-compete Fousseyni.”

Drame’s presence elevated right after halftime, when he and BYU forward Noah Waterman went to the ground in a tussle over a rebound. Neither player committed an extraordinary act of aggression, but the physicality extended beyond the whistle sending players and referees into the pile. Both players were assessed a technical foul. 

That moment had the potential to shift momentum, but Duquesne remained measured, channeling its emotions to take a lead that grew to as many as 14 points at 46-32.

“I think the little scuffle at the beginning of the second half kind of showed everything about what we’re about,” Dambrot said. “We’re going to compete at a very high level in a very clean way, but we’re going to compete and make people earn every inch of the court.”

In a game that was defined by alternating runs, BYU went on a heater themselves, and got itself right back into the game.

Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Jaxon Robinson led all scorers with 25, and his 3 followed by a smooth layup extended a 19-6 run that brought the Cougars to trailing 52-51 

As the shot clock wound down on the ensuing possession, Clark, sitting at only 2 points, chucked up a desperation 3 that airballed. Drame caught it and scored a 3-point play at the buzzer, which preserved the Dukes’ lead when Robinson followed with a 3 of his own. 

That play relieved Duquesne of some of BYU’s momentum, and while the Cougars would tie the game at 60, they never retook the lead.

Despite Clark scoring sparingly early, his presence was undeniable. The All-Conference defender was on top of his game, either forcing steals outright or knocking the ball loose.

It’s why every chance he gets, Dambrot calls Clark the “Pittsburgh Stealer.”

Duquesne will face the winner of Illinois vs. Morehead State on Saturday in Omaha. 

“They just won’t let me retire,” Dambrot joked. “They’re going to make me an old man.”