Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot thought the basketball gods were sending him a bad omen leading up to the team’s season opener Saturday afternoon.
A water main break and bomb threat on campus disrupted his traditional pre-game shower and 30-minute nap routine. The unfortunate series of events had the 21-year head coach questioning if it was a sign of things to come against St. Francis Brooklyn. It was not.
Renee Castro-Caneddy netted a game-high 22 points, Tarin Smith scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, and the Duquesne Dukes won Dambrot’s debut, 80-70, at the AJ Palumbo Center in front of 1,800 fans.
“So we had a water break, a bomb scare, I thought I don’t know…is my karma that bad right now?” Dambrot said of pre-game theatrics. “Our guys played hard–it certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty. I don’t think it will be a thing of beauty, I really don’t…but overall I liked our resiliency.”
The Dukes overcame a poor shooting night from star guard Mike Lewis II—he was 2-13 from the field—and limited production from big man Jordan Robinson—two points and one rebound in 24 minutes.
Castro-Caneddy delivered timely baskets throughout the night, picking his moments to exploit the Terriers’ smaller guards, and Smith scored eight straight points during a key 12-4 run in the second half that seized control of the game for Duquesne.
Leading 50-47 midway through the second half, Smith found Eric Williams Jr. in the open court for an easy slam in transition and followed with a basket on the Dukes’ next possession. After a St. Francis Brooklyn jumper, Smith connected on a pair of free throws and then forced a steal and laid it in.
Williams Jr. missed a three on Duquesne’s ensuing possession but collected his own rebound and finished with a two-handed dunk to make it 62-51. Smith’s three-point play with 5:56 remaining pushed the advantage to 16, 70-54.
“We just knew we needed to make shots in the second half,” Smith said of the Dukes. “And just play with more energy on defense and come out ready to play. We came out strong in the second half, I think that really helped us out a lot.”
St. Francis Brooklyn scored six straight points to trim the deficit to 73-68 with 1:13 remaining, but Castro-Caneddy connected with Williams Jr. for his third dunk of the game to seal the win.
“You could tell we got a little tired at the end,” Dambrot said of St. Francis Brooklyn’s late push. “We made no plays. We had to milk the clock a little bit and then we made no plays or we would have coasted in.”
Williams Jr. scored 15 of his 17 points after the break and pulled down 12 rebounds to collect a double-double in his first collegiate game. He also delivered a key block in the closing seconds to thwart the Terriers’ combeback.
As a team, Duquesne shot 48 percent from the floor in the second half and hit 16 of 20 free throw attempts over the final 20 minutes. The Dukes were just 15-25 from the stripe in the first half.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) November 12, 2017
The game was tied at 32 at halftime after Duquesne trailed by as many as eight in the first period. St. Francis Brooklyn scored six straight at one point to go ahead, eventually building an eight-point cushion, but the Dukes ripped off nine unanswered points to briefly regain the lead, 31-30.
Robinson played just eight minutes in the opening half due to foul trouble, and the Dukes missed 11 of 12 attempts from outside. They would finish the game 3 of 26 from behind the three-point arc.
“I was actually ok with how we played in the first half,” Dambrot said. “I thought we got down and rallied back considering we missed 105 free throws and we didn’t make any threes. When you build your team at the defensive end, you have a chance at least to survive those bad moments.”
Duquesne opened the second half scoring six straight points, and they would never relinquish the lead. A layup by Smith stretched their advantage to 49-42, and a William’s Jr. free throw widen the gap to eight. St. Francis Brooklyn responded with five quick points, setting the stage for the game’s decisive run.
It was just the second 20-point effort of Castro-Caneddy’s career, and Smith and him combined to go 14-26 from the floor.
Duquesne improves to 80-4 all-time in home openers, and Dambrot moves to 15-5 as a coach in season openers. He’s off to a better start than at Akron. The Zips fell, 90-88, in Dambrot’s coaching debut.
Duquesne returns to action Tuesday at home against VMI. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m