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Duquesne prevails in opener under new coach Keith Dambrot

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, 7:57 p.m.

In 19 seasons as a basketball coach, Keith Dambrot has seen almost everything.

Then, he stepped inside Palumbo Center on Saturday for his first game at Duquesne and he realized there was so much more that he hadn't experienced.

As it turned out, the easiest part of his day was the 80-70 opening-day victory against St. Francis Brooklyn before a crowd of 1,833.

Dambrot's day started routinely enough with practice, his usual 30 minutes on the stationary bike and a little nap to settle the nerves.

Then, his phone rang, and athletic director Dave Harper gave him the news: He couldn't shower because a nearby water main break shut off service inside the arena.

Inconvenient, sure, but he shrugged his shoulders and started preparing for the game.

“I'm OK not taking a shower and smelling like a dirty sock,” he said.

Soon after that, however, he got word of a bomb scare on campus. Hmmm … now, something sounds suspicious.

“Did somebody from Akron (his previous employer) send a bomb here because they didn't want me to coach?” he said, laughing. “Is my karma that bad?”

The scare turned out to be a hoax, but what happened next was almost too difficult to endure. St. Francis Brooklyn, picked to finish last in the Northeast Conference poll, built a 30-23 lead with 4 minutes, 1 second left in the first half.

“I can't lose my first game,” he said. “That wouldn't be a good first impression.”

Fortunately for Dambrot, the Dukes recovered quickly, forged a 32-32 tie by halftime and dominated much of the second half to give the coach his first victory.

“We didn't mess up his resume for his first game as Duquesne's head coach,” said graduate senior guard Rene Castro-Caneddy, who led all scorers with 22 points.

Dambrot gave Castro-Caneddy the option to start after he had earned the right. The transfer from Butler made the most of it, scoring 13 points in the first half.

The second-half surge, however, was led by junior guard Tarin Smith and 6-foot-5 freshman guard Eric Williams Jr.

Smith scored 16 of his 18 points and Williams 15 of his 17 after halftime.

The play of those three almost made Dambrot forget the day's off-the-court adversity and something strange that happened on the court.

Sophomore guard Mike Lewis, who led the team last year with a 14.1-point scoring average, missed 11 of his 13 shots, including all nine of his 3-point attempts.

“I really don't try to explain misses,” Dambrot said, pleased that Lewis persevered to end up with 13. “Before the year is over, he'll shoot his normal percentage. We have to make sure he makes them when it matters.”But he's not worried about Lewis.

“If we ever win a game when Mike Lewis shoots 2 of 13 and 0 of 9 from 3-point, I'll buy you all (reporters) steak dinners because that's not going to happen very often.”

Obama graduate DJ Porter, son of former Duquesne coach Darelle Porter, scored nine points for St. Francis.

Dambrot said the victory was no “thing of beauty,” but that's about what he expects in this season of rebuilding. Injuries to big men Chas Brown (stress fracture in his foot) and Marko Krivacevic (broken wrist) have limited Dambrot to eight serviceable players.

He's not complaining, though. This is a man, after all, who hadn't showered all day.

“I never coached a team with eight,” he said. “I don't have any options. You can sit there and make excuses or you can figure out a way to win.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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