Duquesne opens season at PPG Paints Arena with 94-67 victory against Princeton
There was plenty for Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot to like about his team’s 94-67 opening-night victory against Princeton on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
How about that 85-44 surge after falling behind 23-9 nine minutes into the game?
And it was hard not to like Sincere Carry’s pain-free performance on his surgically repaired knee. The sophomore point guard strung together a stat line that included a game-high 23 points (three 3s), five assists, one steal and only three turnovers in 32 minutes.
But those are just numbers, and this was only a non-conference game that will be long forgotten when Duquesne gets deep into the Atlantic 10 season this winter.
What especially pleases Dambrot is what he knew before the game, what he believes separates this year’s team — his third at Duquesne — from the 2018-2019 group that won 19 games but lost four of its last five and bowed out after the first round of the A-10 tournament.
“Camaraderie, character, caring about winning,” he said when asked to describe the difference between the teams. Carry backed up his coach’s words when asked the same question.
“Last year, we were just teammates,” he said. “Now, it’s more of a family. We have each other’s back. We trust each other. It’s going to be somebody new every night up here (talking to reporters after the game).”
The ease of the victory surprised Dambrot after Princeton hit 17 of 29 shots in the first half and led 42-37 at halftime.
Nonetheless, Dambrot said he walked into the locker room without any intention of yelling at his team.
“I went in very calm,” he said. “Then, I got mad and screamed and yelled for about three minutes mostly because I didn’t like some things I heard. Then, I calmed down again.”
What did he hear?
The coach was reluctant to betray the sanctity of the locker room, saying, “Normal stuff when things go badly.”
Then, he added, “I want guys when things go badly and they’re not playing well that they’re upbeat. I didn’t like some of it.”
Encouraged by its coach, Duquesne wore down Princeton in the second half, hitting 23 of 36 shots (63.9 percent) and playing stingy defense.
“We got hit in the mouth (in the first half),” Dambrot said, “so we had to react. It’s going to happen another 30 times this year. We might as well learn to take the body blow and see if we can react to it.”
Carry said the team played “selfish” in the first half.
“We weren’t making the extra pass and weren’t playing hard on defense,” he said. “He told us we need to do better in those areas. (After halftime), we played hard. We played free and made the game simple.”
For the game, the Dukes hit 52 percent of their 3s (13 of 25), getting a unique 3-for-4 performance from beyond the arc by 6-foot-11 graduate transfer Baylee Steele.
When Steele was at Eastern Michigan and Utah Valley State earlier in his career, he tried a total of only 11 3-pointers, making two. He hit one more than that in the first 13 minutes against Princeton and finished with 19 points.
“My last coaches didn’t like their five man shooting 3s,” Steele said. “Coach D does. Simple.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .