MBB dominates Montana in season opener

Peter Boettger | Staff Photographer | Members of the Duquesne men’s basketball team prepare to break huddle following a timeout during Tuesday’s 91-63, season-opening victory over Montana at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Nov. 10, 2022

Led by a 25-point, 8-for-8 shooting (6-for-6 from three-point range) performance from Dae Dae Grant, the Duquesne men’s basketball team coasted to a 91-63 win over Montana in Tuesday’s season opener at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.

The win helped the program secure its first win in its last 18 games (dating back to Jan. 8), and it was the Dukes’ largest margin of victory since defeating Columbia by 36 points on Dec. 9, 2019.

It would be bullish to suggest that such a dominant performance was always in the cards. Duquesne welcomed nine new players in the offseason, and probable starting point guard Tevin Brewer missed the game with an injury. On top of that, the Dukes finished the 2021-22 campaign on a 17-game losing streak and the Atlantic 10 Conference’s preseason poll picked the Dukes to finish 15th out of 15 teams.

As the pregame festivities concluded and the fans filed into their seats, Associate Head Coach Dru Joyce III went down the bench, greeting every player with a double fist bump and words of encouragement. Seconds later, a new season tipped off, and with it a plethora of opportunity.

Holding a 14-12 lead early in the first half, Duquesne struck a match. A pair of made free-throws were followed by a backcourt steal and bucket by Joe Reece. When Montana once again tried to move the ball up court, the Grizzlies were greeted by the vicious full-court press organized by Head Coach Keith Dambrot. Reece got another steal and threw down a dunk.

The thunderous barrage from Duquesne brought a packed student section to its feet and brought audible cheers from teammates. When he finally returned to the floor, Reece looked up at the screaming crowd, and spread his seven-foot wingspan out wide, as if he were basking in its glory.

If the program is able to turn things around this year, that moment could be looked at as a turning point for the Dukes.

It certainly was in the game, as that sequence sent Duquesne on its way to scoring 14 unanswered points and, eventually, a 21-2 run that put the game well out of reach.

“Just seeing [Reece] pressure the ball like that, and all the other bigs,” Grant said, “That just rallied and started everything for us to just get hot.”

Depth was also on display in the fieldhouse, as Duquesne saw 11 different players reach double digits in minutes. Kevin Easley and Tre Williams were the only remaining constants from last season, and both saw their roles significantly reduced.

“We’re not going to win the league with five [players], so we have to win it with 11,” Dambrot said.

Reece was also confident with how the depth gelled in their first competitive game together.

“We’re super deep, our young core is talented,” Reece said. “On and off the court, we have a connection.”

Meanwhile, Grant continued with an elite shooting stroke. In addition to his perfect night from the field, he was 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.

“Patience is key to me and my life,” Grant said, “I just let it come.”

“He’s been a pleasure to coach. He’s come to work every single day. You can talk to him, and he listens,” Dambrot said. “A lot of guys that have a lot of success nowadays, they don’t listen, but [Dae Dae] does.”

Dambrot also said that he had no trouble putting the ball in Grant’s hands.

“With his stroke, when he shoots open shots, they’re going in. When he shot it, I felt like every one was going in,” Dambrot said, “That’s how it’s been every day at practice. If he’s open, he’s making it.”

Finishing behind Grant in points was freshman forward Matus Hronsky. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and a pair of threes that even had Williams’ father standing in the crowd, waving the Slovakia native’s flag in the air.

“He’s a typical European player,” Dambrot said. “He can dribble, pass and shoot. He’s got a good brain.”

Also tallying double figures were Reece and Quincy McGriff. Tre Clark led the Dukes with three assists, while also adding eight points of his own.

Duquesne shot 64.4% from the field, the program’s best performance under Dambrot, who is now in his sixth season guiding the Dukes.

The diamond press was on frequent display. Their skin-tight defense was relentless, no matter who Dambrot subbed in.

“With me being 6’8” with a 7-foot wingspan at the frontcourt taking it out,” Reece said. “Man, it’s scary. So, Kudos to [Dambrot] for that.”

The Dukes will turn to a more-difficult task on Friday evening, when they travel to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., for a date with No. 4-ranked Kentucky.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Dambrot said while tempering expectations. “It’s not going to make or break our season.”