Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief
Nov. 11, 2022
Following a 28-point dismantling of Montana to open the 2022-23 campaign on Tuesday night, the Duquesne men’s basketball team was tasked with a tall order on Friday: playing in front of 20,014 fans at Rupp Arena against No. 4-ranked Kentucky.
While the Dukes hung around for brief stretches, even keeping the deficit in single digits early in the second half, the Wildcats outlasted Duquesne en route to a 77-52 win in the first game of the Tribute Classic – a multi-team event that will also pit Duquesne and Kentucky against South Carolina State and North Florida over the next two weeks.
Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot said that it was “too early [in the season] for us to win the game,” something attributed to a roster that fields 11 players that weren’t on Duquesne a season ago.
“We’re just not quite ready to play at that caliber yet with all the newness that we have,” Dambrot said. “You’re talking about one of the top-five teams in the country. We just haven’t been together long enough to win a game like that.
“You have to know when to score. You have to know when to slow it down. You can’t get to running a Kentucky Derby with them, right? they’re just too quick, fast and athletic to do that.”
After shooting 8-for-8 from the field and scoring 25 points in Tuesday’s win, Dae Dae Grant was held to just 3 points on one made field goal Friday. Tre Clark led the Dukes with 11 points, and the team shot just 30.3% from the field, down from a Dambrot era-record 64.4% on Tuesday.
“When you shoot 8-for-32 in the first half, that’s hard to overcome,” Dambrot said. “But you have to move the ball against them and make them play a lot of defense in order to win … That’s how you have to play against them. Pick and choose your spots to run. We weren’t quite ready to do that.”
Friday’s contest saw the Duquesne debut of FIU transfer Tevin Brewer, who averaged 15.2 points/game a season ago. He missed Tuesday’s contest with an appendectomy, and he was one of 12 different Dukes to score.
“He was in the hospital for nine days. This wasn’t just some normal appendectomy, it was a tough deal,” Dambrot said. “So, for him to even be out here, people are basically calling him Superman, like he shouldn’t even be out there playing right now. But he’s a tough guy that wanted to play.”
Austin Rotroff scored 8 points, while leading the Dukes with six rebounds. In his fifth year with the program, despite playing in such a different environment than what Duquesne is used to, he said that after a few minutes, “it just becomes another game.”
“Cool experience to come in here,” Rotroff said, “but once the game starts and you get a couple of possessions up and down, and really get to settle in, you kind of tune all of that out.”
The Wildcats were paced by Antonio Reeves (18 points on 5-of-9 shooting and a 4-of-6 performance from 3-point range) and CJ Frederick (14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and a 4-of-7 performance from beyond the arc).
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari was born in Moon Township, Pa. He spent part of his playing career at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and was also an assistant at Pittsburgh in the 1980s.
He offered high praise for Duquesne’s performance and Dambrot’s roster.
“I’m a fan of their program. I grew up in Pittsburgh,” Calipari said. “Keith’s, he just stuck a team together of like 11 new guys. And let me explain, by the middle of this season, we will say we beat a good team.
“Look at them. We beat a good team. They missed some shots … They’re trying to figure each other out. But they’ve got good guys.”
Calipari specifically cited the Dukes’ guard play as a reason why he believes Duquesne will be successful as the season progresses.
“They’ve got really good guards, and they’ve got guards that aren’t afraid to be physical,” Calipari said. “We had two rebounds offensively at halftime. Two. They checked us. They bodied us.”
Similar praise came from Dambrot toward Calipari’s program and his players’ performance.
“When you get all those McDonald’s All-Americans, and you get them to play as hard as they did and share the ball (Kentucky had 22 assists, while Duquesne had 13), it says a lot about you as a coach,” Dambrot said.
The Dukes will return to action on Monday, when they host South Carolina State at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse. The game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.