PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Making its public debut under first-year head coach Keith Dambrot, the Duquesne basketball team gave fans a glimpse of the ups and downs they might experience over the next four months.
The Dukes defeated Chatham, 83-51, Wednesday night in a hurricane relief exhibition contest at the AJ Palumbo Center. All money raised at the gates will be donated to the United Way’s hurricane relief efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For Dambrot, it was another chance to evaluate his team, and as he puts it, “change behaviors.”
“We’re trying to change behaviors on a daily basis,” Dambrot said of the team’s performance. “Just getting them to understand how hard they have to play.”
Much like the team’s first exhibition contest, which was held behind closed doors, there was some good and bad.
The good: freshman Eric Williams Jr. had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, Mike Lewis II looked comfortable scoring a game-high 17 points, and the Dukes committed just 10 turnovers and had 17 assists.
The bad: Chatham totaled 16 offensive rebounds, Jordan Robinson sat for 10 minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls, and Tarin Smith fouled out late in the contest.
“It’s hard to play super hard and aggressive when you’re scared to death of fouling, because if we foul, we’re in trouble,” Dambrot said, referencing the team’s limited depth.
Duquesne scored the first six points of the game and led 11-4 less than five minutes into the contest on Williams Jr.’s transition dunk.
Lewis II stretched the lead to 19-10 with his first three of the night at the 9:55 mark of the half, and Smith’s layup following a Lewis II steal pushed the margin to double-digits.
Williams Jr.’s second slam of the evening widen the gap to 15 with just over five minutes remaining, capping a 9-0 Duquesne run, and Renee Castro-Caneddy’s three-pointer with 51 seconds left made it, 37-19. Chatham hit a three just before the break to trail by 15 at intermission.
“I think Eric Williams is very talented,” Dambrot said of his freshman guard’s performance. “He didn’t shoot the ball from the three-line very well, but he’s very capable of doing that as well.”
Robinson, who had five quick points to start the game, picked up his second foul midway through the half and was forced to sit the final 10 minutes. With graduate transfer Chas Brown out until at least December, Robinson is the only traditional big the Dukes have on the roster.
“I told him the second foul he has to leave alone,” Dambrot said of Robinson. “We don’t have the people…we just don’t have that margin of error.”
Castro-Caneddy’s scored eight points during a stretch early in the second half to help the Dukes pull away for good. Leading 42-26, Castro-Caneddy hit back-to-back threes, and following a Robinson layup, he scored inside, increasing Duquesne’s advantage, 54-26.
The margin would reach 35 with 2:01 left on former student-manager Caleb Davis’ three, which brought the crowd of approximately 500 people to its feet.
Castro-Caneddy (15), Robison (14), and Smith (11) all reached double-figures for the Dukes. Robinson pulled in eight rebounds, and Castro-Caneddy handed out six assists.
Duquesne shot 48 percent for the game and hit six second half threes. Chatham connected on only 29 percent of its attempts, but scored 16 second-chance points.
“We did a really bad job with second shots,” Dambrot said of the team’s defensive rebounding. “Our guards were pathetic defensively on boxing their guys out. Again, that’s on me because we haven’t spent much time on that as we have some other things.”
With only 10 days left until the season tips off against St. Francis, Dambrot will continue to groom the Dukes to his best ability. The short rotation and limited bodies presents new challenges even for a grizzled vet like Dambrot.
“This is a whole new experience for me,” Dambrot said. “I really don’t know what to do with it. How hard do I work them in practice? How do I really coach them with eight guys? I’ve coached a long time but I’ve never had eight.”