Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
With the buzzer sounding and the backboard lights beaming bright red, Duquesne guard Tavian Dunn-Martin strode toward the basket in a moment that perfectly encapsulated the Dukes’ big win Wednesday evening.
Time had expired, but that didn’t keep Dunn-Martin from winding up for a monster dunk.
His attempt slammed off the rim, but that did nothing to suppress the wide smile on his face. That meaningless individual effort may have failed, but his team’s collective work against Saint Louis surely hadn’t.
With a 77-73 win over the Billikens, the A-10’s top team, Duquesne may have just captured the most signature victory of the Keith Dambrot Era on the Bluff thus far.
Like Dunn-Martin’s missed dunk, the Dukes were far from perfect. However, like that missed dunk, Duquesne displayed a great deal of energy and excitement in its biggest matchup of the season thus far.
Despite being out-rebounded 54-31, outscored on second-chance points 29-15 and shooting just over 20 percent from behind the arc, Dambrot’s team put together a convincing performance.
Forward Marcus Weathers posted a career-high 19 points. With nine rebounds, he fell just one short of a double-double.
Swingman Eric Williams Jr. didn’t shoot very well outside of the paint, but still managed a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Point guard Sincere Carry, who as a freshman has already become one of Dambrot’s go-to guys, overcame some early turnovers to finish with 10 points and seven assists.
Defensively, the Dukes held Saint Louis to 38.8 percent shooting and allowed only two made 3-pointers.
Making the effort all the more impressive was the poise Duquesne showed in spite of some obvious challenges.
For starters, the Billikens were picked to finish atop the Atlantic 10 in the preseason, while Duquesne was predicted to finish eleventh. After a 5-0 start to conference play, Saint Louis looked every bit the team they were thought to be.
Saint Louis also started three seniors against this underclassmen-laden Dukes team. In Dambrot’s words, “that’s an old team… we played against a very mature, solid group.”
The obstacles facing the Dukes were not limited to these factors, however. In-game adversity presented itself when big man Austin Rotroff injured his knee almost immediately after coming off the bench early on.
Furthermore, Duquesne also struggled grabbing boards and fifty-fifty balls in the game’s first half.
None of these challenges fazed the Dukes, who looked confident and composed throughout the game in spite of the underestimations, intangible adversity and on-court struggles.
By no means was it a perfect performance, but it was incredibly encouraging nonetheless.
After a bit of a sloppy first half, Duquesne took control in the second half and eventually pulled away from the Billikens.
There is still progress to be made for this young squad, but right now the Dukes are keeping pace with the best teams in the A-10. Since a loss to Davidson, they have won five consecutive conference games.
It has been a great stretch, and the Duquesne fan base, which has endured years of bad basketball, is beginning to acknowledge the far-improved play of their team.
A few days after Dambrot called for Duquesne fans to fill the seats against Saint Louis, the A.J. Palumbo Center crowd made its presence known. With 3,011 fans in attendance, it was a raucous environment.
Dambrot stated that “the crowd was terrific,” although he wasn’t fully content.
Referencing his “perfectionist” nature, the Dukes’ coach said, “I’m not gonna be satisfied with three thousand people in the building, but by the same token, why should they come at this point until we prove we can win?”
With the bulk of A-10 play still remaining, the Dukes still have plenty to prove. However, one thing this team no longer has to prove is that it’s moving in the right direction.
There was plenty of discussion about the potential of this team entering the year, but now it’s beginning to provide tangible evidence. A 14-5 start is the program’s best since 2011, and with the way this group has been playing lately, the expectations and excitement may only continue to swell.