Luke Henne | sports editor
Nov. 11, 2021
Behind 14 points, a team-high-tying six rebounds and a team-high three blocks from newcomer Tre Williams, the Duquesne men’s basketball defeated Rider University, 73-61, in its season opener at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse Tuesday evening.
The win, which saw Duquesne in it’s all-time record in season openers to 88-18, helped the Dukes officially reopen the fieldhouse. It was just the third time the team played in the venue, and the first time the team played on campus without capacity restrictions since March 9, 2019.
Williams, who transferred to Duquesne from Indiana State, felt the key to victory was getting contributions from players up and down the roster.
“We learned that everybody can step up at any time,” Williams said. “We found out that everybody is gonna be a major piece to this season, so we’re just gonna need everybody to keep contributing.”
In addition to Williams, three Dukes also scored in double figures. Kevin Easley Jr. led Duquesne with 16 points, while Primo Spears matched Williams’ total of 14. Leon Ayers III also scored 12 points.
Spears mirrored Williams’ statement, saying that comradery was essential.
“Everybody just came together and fought, and it really showed that we could win at a high level,” Spears said.
The Dukes shot just 36.7% during the first half, and the Broncs went into the locker room at halftime with a 33-30 edge. However, Duquesne outscored Rider 43-28 in the second half, sealing a 12-point victory in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Head Coach Keith Dambrot, working with a roster of nine new players and seven returning players, acknowledged that there will be plenty of room to grow in the season’s first few weeks.
“One of my themes with this group has been [that] we have a chance to improve more than any team in the country because we are so new,” Dambrot said. “That’s really what we’re trying to concentrate on, and that’s really what happened in the game.
“We improved from the first half to the second half. We made enough plays to win the game.”
Dambrot, who is now 22-4 in non-conference home games since coming to Duquesne, said the win was just about what he expected, also stressing the need to see his roster get to full strength before making any large assessments.
“It’s not really much different than I anticipated,” Dambrot said. “We’re gonna have our issues until we get another couple three, four weeks and we get all our guys back.”
Williams savored the opportunity to once again play not only in front of a large crowd, but in a refurbished venue like the fieldhouse.
“It was a new building, so I knew it was gonna be packed tonight,” Williams said. “I’m glad everybody came out and we put on a show and got the win.”
He also knew that setting the tone was critical, especially in order to give fans a reason to keep coming to games.
“It was just a lot of high emotions, a lot of people in the building,” Williams said. “You want to get the win for everybody to keep them coming out, so I just feel like everybody was ready to play and just pumped up.”
Dambrot praised the character of his team, emphasizing that operating at such a high level makes his job more enjoyable.
“They’re an easy group to work with. It’s refreshing,” Dambrot said.
He also praised the student body turnout, saying that it gives his players a source of energy to feed off of, particularly after playing the majority of home games away from campus over the past two seasons.
“That made a big difference. Guys play hard when people are at the game. They’re human beings as well,” Dambrot said. “I thought it was really good, and I think it’s good for the students too. That’s why we go to college. We all went to college and supported our university and our teams. It’s more of a good college experience compared to the last two years, where we had no college experience.”
Much like Williams, Dambrot made it clear that the key to seeing fans continue to come to the fieldhouse is winning.
“Let’s not undersell the importance of how many people were at the game tonight,” Dambrot said. “We can do better than that, but we have to earn it.
“You can’t really blame the Duquesne fans [in past years] for not coming. There haven’t been many winners over the years. The return on investment hasn’t been great, so you have to earn that support.”
Dambrot feels if his team can work tirelessly every night, they could draw the attention of more than just the Duquesne community.
“One thing I know about Pittsburgh people [is] that they respect teams that play hard and fight hard and play together, that are good people,” Dambrot said. “That’s what the Pittsburghers are. They’re just good old souls, hard-working individuals. We have to be just like the city.”
Duquesne will return to action on Saturday night when it hosts Hofstra. The Pride battled No. 15 Houston in their season opener Tuesday, leading by as many as 13 points before ultimately falling to the Cougars in overtime.
This will be the first all-time meeting between the Pride and the Dukes.