Duquesne outlasts Dayton to win Atlantic 10 opener
Two things were clear for Duquesne in its 70-62 win over Dayton in its Atlantic 10 opener Saturday at Palumbo Center: The Dukes closed a game with solid defense, and they didn't back down when the situation became tense.
In coach Keith Dambrot's A-10 debut, the Dukes held Dayton without a field goal in the final five and half minutes and finished the game on a 10-2 run.
Another statement was made just before halftime when Dayton's Kostas Antetokounmpo dunked on the Dukes and got in Chas Brown's face. The Dukes didn't back down. Instead, a shoving match ensued. Brown and Antetokounmpo received technical fouls.
Dambrot liked the fire he saw from his players, even if he didn't like seeing Brown commit a technical foul.
“It showed that Duquesne isn't going to get punked anymore,” Dambrot said. “I didn't particularly care for the play, but in the same token, at least he showed that we're not going to take anything. We're not going to be the stepchildren of the league.”
The Dukes, who are 8-1 in their past nine games, fed off the energy, taking a 38-34 lead into halftime.
“It goes into our team's mental toughness, and when we get into a situation like that, we're not going to back down,” said Duquesne's Mike Lewis II, who finished with 12 points. “We're going to keep our head and keep competing. After (the technicals), I thought that was when our fans started to make a lot of noise and got into the game.”
Dambrot is setting out to change a long culture of losing, and the way the team closed Saturday's game provided a step in the right direction.
The Dukes (10-4, 1-0) forced difficult looks for Dayton (6-7, 0-1) in the final five minutes while clinging to a two-point lead. A pair of baskets in the paint by Brown, playing with a broken foot, and an acrobatic runner in the lane by Eric Williams Jr. created breathing room. Williams' jumper brought an energetic Palumbo Center crowd to its feet.
“Coach (Dambrot) always preaches that you're not going win trying to outscore a team, and as long as we get stops, we will have a chance at the end,” said guard Rene Castro-Caneddy, who had a game-high 21 points.
After going 0 for 3 from outside the arc in the first half, Lewis connected a pair of 3-pointers a minute apart early in the second. Tarin Smith added a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Duquesne a 53-46 lead near the midpoint of the second half.
Brown's dunk gave the Dukes the lead for good, 62-61, with 4:35 to play.
The win was a good first step, but Dambrot said the Dukes have to keep climbing as they continue to rebuild.
“There's no reason Duquesne shouldn't have a good program. I'll say that over and over,” Dambrot said. “The school is behind us, and I thought the fans today were great. I don't know what the total was or how many were Dayton fans or Duquesne fans, but I know if we work hard and play hard the people of Pittsburgh will get behind this program. Pittsburgh people have built their whole lives on hard work and togetherness, and that's what we're trying to do here.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.