Time to dance: the Dukes win A-10

Dave Dixon, Kareem Rozier and Tre Williams pose with the A-10 Championship trophy.

Rebecca Jozwiak | Staff Writer

Updated 12:12 a.m. on March 21, 2024

NEW YORK– For the first time in 47 years, Duquesne is going to March Madness.

In a game that came down to the wire, the Dukes defeated the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, 57-51, to win the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Duquesne had a lights-out performance in the first half. After the Rams scored the first basket of the game, the Dukes never looked back. Like clockwork, Dae Dae Grant exploded in the first half. Fousseyni Drame scored 4 points, but contributed five rebounds. All nine Dukes that played in the first half scored and the Dukes saw their largest lead of the game, 36-18, with a little over a minute left in the first half.

However, VCU finally got shots to start falling, and climbed back in the second half.
2:57 into the second quarter, red and blue confetti prematurely fell from the ceiling of the Barclays Center– which seemed to have been a temporary bad omen for the Dukes. From 19:28 to 10:56, the Dukes were outscored 11-0, blowing their double-digit lead in the process.

The Rams were able to capitalize off of a cold shooting spell from the Dukes, and senior guard Joe Bamisile led the offensive explosion with a game-high 20 points.

It was a similar pattern to the Dukes quarterfinal win over Dayton, but once again, Duquesne regained control after their early lead disappeared.

“I just try to stay the course, just like I did all year,” said Head Coach Keith Dambrot. “Again, I’m fairly experienced, so I just try to stay calm because they’re going to feed off of your anxiety or your calmness.”

While the Dukes were able to mostly contain Rams guard Max Shulga. Shulga, a senior, was relatively quiet against the Dukes, scoring five points – well off from his 14.6 average. Shulga did have a breakthrough toward the end of the game, though: he scored a jumper to pull VCU within 6 less than four minutes left. With 1:45 remaining, Shulga stole the ball; after driving the ball down the court to Bamisile, Grant was called for a foul against Bamisile, who made both of his free throws.

“First, I’m just going to give props– Shulga is a great player,” Grant said, “He’s a good guard.”

Although Bamisile’s two free throws helped cut the Rams deficit down, Duquesne was able to draw fouls that sent them to the free-throw line: in the last 7:30 of the game, the Rams combined for seven fouls that sent six different Dukes to the line. Jimmy Clark III saw two fouls called in his favor, with the first one called with 21 seconds left, and the second called with one second left. Clark ultimately sealed the deal for the Dukes with a brilliant pass assist to Jake DiMichele with under a minute to play, and his two free throws were the final points scored in the tournament, resulting in a 57-51 win.

When the buzzer sounded a wave of relief crashed through the Duquesne sideline. Players jumped up on the scorers table in celebration and fans broke into tears as their nerves turned into excitement. One person who wasn’t anxious at all was Dambrot, who was one of the only people in the arena who knew that these were the final days of his career.

“It’s the most relaxed I’ve ever been in a game,” Dambrot said. “I just went out and tried to enjoy the moment, which probably was the first time of my career.”

Jakub Necas also enjoyed a terrific game and tournament. Necas hit a three-point jumper with 4:35 left, which was a pivotal moment to a consistently close second half.

Dambrot praised the freshman and his development this season.

“He’s just scratching the surface,” he said. “His work ethic is second-to-none.”

As Dambrot praised his players, they had nothing but glowing comments in return.

“He can be straightforward with us,” Grant said. “And everybody can’t get that from a player-coach standpoint.”

“It’s definitely good to have a coach to be able to tell you what is straightforward and straight to the point so you can make an effort to fix it,” Clark said. “I love him, man.”

Dambrot’s response?

“I love you, too.”

The Duquesne Dukes will now take on the Brigham Young Cougars in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Omaha. Tip-off is slated for 12:40 p.m.