Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor
Dec. 1, 2022
Before the calendar turned from November to December, the Duquesne men’s basketball team had already equaled its win total from all of last season. Keith Dambrot’s squad has turned a 6-24 record in 2021-22 to a 6-1 start this year, with the only loss coming at the hands of nationally-ranked Kentucky.
The Dukes’ final triumph of the month came over UC Santa Barbara, 72-61, at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse on Tuesday.
In the face of numerous injuries to their frontcourt, Duquesne was able to once again lean on the hot shot of Dae Dae Grant. The junior guard led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-9 from behind the arc.
Grant is averaging 20.1 points per game through the first seven contests of the campaign.
“Dae Dae has been really coachable,” Dambrot said. “He’s done whatever we asked him to do, he’s been a good teammate and he’s consistently put the ball in the basket … He’s been scoring at a pretty high clip, maybe the best I’ve ever had as far as consistency.”
Grant’s scoring was on display as soon as the ball tipped off, when he worked on the left side of the key by himself and scored a jump shot for Duquesne’s first points of the game.
While running the point, Tevin Brewer has also proved to be able to create his own shot. In several instances, he was able to penetrate with a bouncy stop-and-go move, and his 5-foot-8-inch frame was always one step ahead of defenders. He finished with three of Duquesne’s 17 assists, second only to Kareem Rozier’s four.
The two squads struggled to put up points early, but the scoring increased, as did the pace, in the backstretch of the first half. Only then could the Dukes pull away. Grant hit a three with under a minute to go, and Duquesne entered the half with a 37-27 lead.
The Gauchos brought the game within four late in the second half, but Duquesne was once again able to put some distance between the teams.
Grant made his play of the day with just five minutes left, launching an off-balance circus shot from long range that cashed in, igniting the home crowd. He also snagged three steals on defense.
“Trying to max out on the defensive end, to give all I have,” Grant said, “because I know that’s what it takes for us.”
Brewer and David Dixon also scored in double digits, putting up 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Joe Reece and R.J. Gunn both remained sidelined by injuries for the Dukes. Gunn is still in a walking boot, and though Reece was able to ditch his boot, he still moved with a noticeable limp. Dambrot said after the game that, while possible, it was unlikely Reece could feature in Saturday’s home contest against Ball State.
Besides the injuries to Reece and Gunn, Kevin Easley Jr. remained on suspension, so Duquesne’s depth would be tested, especially when Dixon had to briefly leave the game after taking a shot to the torso.
UC Santa Barbara entered as one of the stand-out squads on Duquesne’s relatively weak non-conference schedule. The Gauchos were picked to win the Big West Conference, and they have a pair of players (Andre Kelly and Ajay Mitchell) on the conference’s Preseason Coaches’ Team. Kelly and Mitchell were shut down by Dambrot’s defense, combining for just 24 points.
“We knew we were going to have to get stops to win this game, and that’s what we did tonight,” Tre Williams said. “We knew we were going to pull away at some point if we kept doing that.”
The 6-1 record is Duquesne’s best since 2019, but Dambrot didn’t find much joy in meeting last season’s win total so early.
“It means we sucked last year. Six wins, what the hell, you’re supposed to be able to do that,” Dambrot said, laughing. “I’m trying to enjoy the game and the win, and you had to remind me of those six rotten wins last year.”
Williams was one of two players to appear on Tuesday (along with Austin Rotroff) that were also featured on last year’s roster. Williams feels that they’ve wasted no time building chemistry with the revamped roster.
“We’re brothers now, we trust each other, we’re always there for each other, so we know we got each other’s back,” Williams said. “That’s why we play like how we play, and that’s why you see us [dancing] in the tunnel just gelling together.”