Dukes out of March Madness

Spencer Thomas | Staff Writer

OMAHA, NE— It got ugly fast, and it never got much better for Duquesne, as the Dukes’ historic season came to an end with an 89-63 loss to Illinois on Saturday.

The game marked the end of Head Coach Keith Dambrot’s career, as he had announced on Monday that he would retire at the conclusion of the season.

“It wasn’t quite the way I wanted it to end,” he said. “But one thing I know in life after being here almost 66 years is you have to take the good with the bad. And you have to rally yourself back when things don’t go well.”

Illinois, the Big-10 champions, had seemingly unlimited options offensively, and showed it early on. Forward Marcus Domask sparked the Fighting Illini to a quick 5 points, immediately creating a problem for Dambrot to fix. First, he inserted Jakub Necas, who couldn’t capture the magic that made him a hero in the first-round win over BYU. Other attempts to do so involved Chabi Barre and Andrei Savrasov, neither of whom had seen significant minutes in the last several months.

 “Hats off to Illinois,” Dambrot said. “We couldn’t quite get our feet underneath us to guard them well enough to be in the game.”

Illinois continued to demonstrate that the massive gap between the sides seeding was justified. If it wasn’t Domask scoring, it was Coleman Hawkins, and if it wasn’t him, it was Terrence Shannon Jr. All three players reached double figures in the first half, pushing Illinois to the half-century mark: a 50-26 lead at the break. 

“Some of the things they do are different from what we have seen most of the year,” Dambrot said. “We had trouble guarding the ball, which was ultimately our undoing.”

The versatility of Illinois’ offense meant that every time Dambrot plugged a hole, two more opened up. Dain Dainja dominated in the paint, but if Duquesne constricted their defense there, Coleman Hawkins was bound to sink one of his three 3-pointers.

Shannon’s baskets came via blitzing speed, where he beat defenders to the basket with ease, occasionally closed with a flashy dunk. The Illini shot 20-of-30 in the first half, doubling up the Dukes’ mark of 10-of-29.

“They bullied us tonight,” Dambrot said. “We got a little frazzled and unraveled, and we had trouble with their physicality and their quickness… I don’t think we were quite ready for the quickness level and the strength.”

Offensively, Duquesne was listless and flustered. They were either committing sloppy turnovers, or trying to erase the deficit with futile individual efforts. When the Dukes found life early in the second half, their runs were squashed by a dominant streak from Shannon, who finished with 30 points.

Duquesne was led by Jimmy Clark III’s 14 points, who was one of seven seniors to see their college career end on Saturday.

The Illini advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston, where they will face the second-seed Iowa State Cyclones.