In all likelihood, Saturday was 426th of 427 men’s basketball games Duquesne will play over 31 seasons at what has been called the A.J. Palumbo Center.
With a comprehensive, two-year renovation rendering it almost unrecognizable set to begin next month, the Dukes are sending the facility out in style.
Duquesne set a record for wins over a season at Palumbo with their 80-73 victory against Massachusetts. The Dukes, who host Dayton the regular-season finale next Saturday, are 14-4 at Palumbo in 2018-19.
“That’s pretty cool because it’s the last time this building is going to be like this this year,” forward Michael Hughes said. “So it’s nice to go out like that.”
Duquesne last posted 14 home wins during the 1980-81 season.
After initially crediting the scheduling of athletic director Dave Harper for the Palumbo wins record, second-year coach Keith Dambrot noted how he wants the wins to translate into better crowds at what will be known as the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse beginning in 2020-21.
“You have to win at home in order to have a good program,” Dambrot said, “so the next step when we get back in here over a year from now is we have to fill up to make a very difficult place to play.”
The Palumbo record isn’t the only wins mark that Duquesne is set to eclipse this season. At 10-6 in the Atlantic 10, the Dukes have tied their program record for conference victories in a season. And they have two games left to break it, beginning Wednesday at Saint Louis.
Duquesne went 10-3 in the Eastern Eight in 1980-81, it went 10-8 in the A-10 in 1990-91 and 10-6 in the conference in 2010-11.
Asked what the conference wins record means, Dambrot talked big picture about his quest to return Duquesne to relevance. Dambrot’s father, Sid, played on Dukes teams that reached a No. 1 national ranking in the early 1950’s.
“When I came here, I came here because I think Duquesne fans have suffered for a long time,” he said. “And my dad wasn’t too pleased about it either. And I felt like with the commitment from the school and the commitment from the athletic director, the president, the board of trustees and the academic reputation of the school and the city’s revitalization, being a great job market, great city, I felt like if I could coach at all I would have a chance to turn this thing around. I felt like the risk-reward was really good.
“And I didn’t know how quick it would take. I tried to do it the right way. So I think we have turned it around. I think we certainly are competitive; I don’t think we are where I want to be yet but we are competitive and that’s a little bit more than they have been over the last 40 years over the most part. And it really wasn’t the coaches’ fault at that time. There’s a lot of factors that go into winning and losing, so my situation is I told people when I took the job if I didn’t win it was going to be all on me. It wasn’t going to be because the school wasn’t committed, it wasn’t because Duquesne didn’t care about basketball, it wasn’t going to be because it wasn’t a great school. It’s all on me, and making sure I get the right people, the right culture, the players. And the school’s done more than I can ask. Now the key is can we continue to develop and get better. We certainly don’t want to stay here (at this level of being 19-10). But it’s hard to stay here even. But we have got to try to get better so we can be a championship-quality team every single year. That’s really what I want. And then get to that NCAA tournament so those Duquesne people can be happy.”