MBB loses to La Salle, out of A-10 tourney

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief

March 9, 2023

After a 27-point loss at Fordham on Saturday, the Duquesne men’s basketball team returned to New York, needing to win four games in five days to capture the Atlantic 10 Conference’s automatic-qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Despite holding a 33-27 lead at halftime, the No. 6-seed Dukes were outscored 54-37 by No. 11-seed La Salle in the second half of Wednesday’s 81-70 loss in the tournament’s second round.

“I felt like we had them on the ropes,” said Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot. “We started the second half slowly, but then we got up 8 (44-36 with 15:26 left), and we didn’t really guard during that stretch … And then we quit guarding completely. We had a hard time defensively. They did a great job of isolating us.

“It looked like we kind of died on the vine, physically and mentally, and they exploited us. And from that point on, we didn’t really guard them the whole second half. We defended well in the first half, but not very well in the second half.”

Duquesne’s Jimmy Clark III led all game scorers with 27 points, while Khalil Brantley and Jhamir Brickus combined to score 45 of the Explorers’ 81 points.

Dae Dae Grant, who recorded 13 points for the Dukes in the loss, said that “lack of rhythm and feel” contributed to the team’s offensive struggles in the second half.

Clark added that the team wasn’t “getting into the flow of [their] offense.”

Following a 91-74 road win in Philadelphia against La Salle just two weeks ago, the Dukes have now lost three of the last four games by an average margin of 14 points. Their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977 have also been effectively eliminated, as the A-10 is widely projected to be a one-bid league.

Grant said that, this time around, the Explorers had “a lot more energy.” After defeating No. 14-seed Rhode Island in Tuesday’s opening-round contest, as well as Duquesne on Wednesday, La Salle now sits three victories away from its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013.

“They were well-coached, and they have a pretty good team,” Grant said. “They have some good guards, so give props to them. But we just have to be better overall, on our side and on our end.”

After Saturday’s loss to Fordham, which bumped Duquesne from earning the No. 4 seed and a double-bye in the tournament, Dambrot was asked if the emotions from that difficult defeat carried over into tonight’s performance.

“It’s a long year … We caught [La Salle] on a night where they played pretty good, and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” Dambrot said. “And then we had to chase the game.”

Dambrot said that he feels bad for players like Clark and Grant, each of whom transferred into the program and helped improve the team from a 6-24 showing in 2021-22 to a 20-12 record this season.

“The hard part, for me, is those guys have given us everything we wanted all year long,” Dambrot said. “And so I feel bad for them because they just didn’t get what they deserved, really. Now we didn’t play very well, so I guess we deserved what we got tonight, but overall, they had a really good season and deserved a little bit better.”

While those like Clark and Grant have eligibility remaining and can return to the team next season, impact players like Austin Rotroff, Joe Reece and Tevin Brewer all might’ve played their final game in a Duquesne uniform (if no postseason invitation comes and/or is accepted).

“If I needed to have another son, I’d take Rotroff in a minute,” Dambrot said. “He’s an unbelievable human being. Great guy, cares about other people, cares about winning. It’s been an unbelievable pleasure to coach him. Through good, bad and ugly, he hung in there with us.

“Tevin Brewer, we got to know him in a short time period, Reece. They’ve all been great. We’ve had good comradery, good leadership. They’ve been fun to be around.”

The Dukes have a record that could put them in position to earn an invitation to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) or the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), but that’s out of their control.

Duquesne last played in the NIT in 2008-09, while its last trip to the CBI came in 2015-16.