Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Prior to Nov. 10’s season opener against William & Mary, the vast majority of observers were totally unsure of what to expect from the Duquesne men’s basketball team this season.
With 11 newcomers on the team’s roster, there was certainly cause for excitement surrounding the program’s trajectory, as it’s clear that the team possesses talent — and a lot of it at that. Nevertheless, much of that enthusiasm was supplemented by uncertainty, thanks to a severe lack of experience.
With only two returning contributors, Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams Jr., on the team’s roster at the season’s outset — forward Kellon Taylor won’t join the team until his duties with Duquesne’s football team end — nobody was quite sure of what to expect from such a new group of teammates.
Following an 84-70 victory over a solid William & Mary team on Nov. 10 and a thrilling, 89-88 overtime win against the UIC Flames two days later, pundits should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Duquesne now: unpredictability.
Against the Tribe on Nov. 10, 73.8 percent of the Dukes’ points came from new faces, including 17 tallies on 85.8 shooting from 6-foot-10 freshman Austin Rotroff — including a 3-for-3 clip from downtown.
Perhaps even more impressive was freshman guard Sincere Carry’s debut. The Solon, Ohio native posted nine assists and zero turnovers in his first-ever collegiate game that also included two steals in 29 minutes of action. Described by Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot as a defensive-minded, pass-first point guard that has the ability to score, Carry appeared extremely poised for a former West Liberty (Division II) recruit.
If anything, Dambrot certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to snagging overlooked talent. Williams, an eventual 2017-18 A-10 All-Rookie Team honoree, hadn’t received any Division I scholarship offers until Dambrot swooped in late and grabbed him during the 2017 recruiting cycle, either.
After the UIC game, Carry acknowledged that it felt nice to prove himself at the D-I level, but as his maturity on the court may suggest, he seems focused on something wholly different.
“It feels good. But, I’m just trying to prove that I’m a winner. I don’t really care if it was D-I or D-II, I just want to prove that I’m a winner and I’m having fun,” Carry said.
As for whether or not he could have asked for a better two games to begin his college career, Carry said, “Not really. I don’t really care about my own stats, I just care about winning. And turning the program around. So, we won both games, so I wouldn’t change nothing.”
Beyond strong individual performances, the nature of DU’s two victories should give fans plenty of cause for enthusiasm.
Against William & Mary, the Dukes had to maintain focus on the technicalities of the game, paying close attention to the Princeton-style offense that Tribe Head Coach Tony Shaver employs. Dambrot said he was pleased with his team’s ability to disrupt the Tribe’s offensive attack, forcing a good ball-handling team into 16 turnovers in the process.
“We’d like to trap a little bit more. I just didn’t feel like it was the right time to really come at them,” Dambrot said, referencing a more conservative defensive style than what was on display two nights later against UIC. “But we’d like to run at the ball — we did a couple times in the half court, and I thought it frazzled them up a little bit.”
Conversely, against UIC, the Dukes found themselves down early, largely thanks to superb shooting by the Flames. UIC shot 7-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.
However, forward Marcus Weathers did acknowledge post-game that the Dukes had to up their physicality in the game’s second half to get back into it.
Down by 12 with around three minutes left in regulation, Duquesne put together one of the most memorable late-game runs in recent program memory, tying its third-best comeback in the past 22 years, according to Duquesne basketball sports information director Dave Saba.
Such a gritty win couldn’t have even been visualized in recent years, especially with perennial top scorer Lewis struggling to find his groove, though he did hit a vital corner 3-pointer in transition in the game’s winding minutes.
Against UIC, the Dukes were led by Carry again, who posted 32 points, eight assists, six rebounds, four steals and one very memorable block on a much taller UIC shooter’s layup attempt. That’s not to mention a contested layup at the buzzer that sent the game to overtime.
Freshman guard Lamar Norman Jr., who didn’t see the court at all against William & Mary, hit several key shots down the stretch for the Dukes, including a crucial long-range bomb halfway through the overtime period that helped the Dukes regain momentum for good.
Next, the Dukes face reigning Big South champion Radford in Akron, Ohio, on Nov. 17, where Dambrot will re-visit his old stomping grounds at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Dambrot coached NBA great LeBron James from 1999-2001 at the school.
It remains to be seen what’s in store for the Dukes in their next contest, and chances are, Dambrot isn’t even too sure.
I’d bet he’s probably just happy at 2-0 right now.