Duquesne opened the season Saturday night defeating St. Francis Brooklyn, 80-70, at the AJ Palumbo Center.
It was a solid debut for head coach Keith Dambrot, who was hired in late March to restore the tradition on The Bluff. Dambrot has said and done all the right things leading up to Saturday’s opener, but he’ll ultimately be judged on his win/loss record.
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The Dukes are not going to win 25 games this year. They’re short on talent and have several “deficiencies” as Dambrot says. However, he does expect Duquesne to compete.
Duquesne was clearly the superior team yesterday, and Dambrot will quickly build the fanbase’s trust and confidence by beating teams he should, like St. Francis Brooklyn.
• Renee Castro Caneddy’s performance cannot be overstated—22 points on 8-15 shooting and four steals. Along with Tarin Smith, he’s the most experienced guard on the roster. When Jordan Robinson had to sit during the first half due to foul trouble, the offense struggled to find a rhythm, and the Dukes eventually fell behind by eight at 30-22. Castro-Caneddy scored four straight points to spark a 9-0 Dukes run that put them ahead temporarily.
He’s not the fastest nor is he quickest player on the court by any means, yet he played with such great command, recognizing his moments to attack the basket or fire off a three.
On a side note, Dambrot considered starting freshman Eric Williams’ Jr. at the three but ultimately the decision was Castro-Caneddy’s. Dambrot approached him earlier this week and asked him if he wanted to start. Castro-Caneddy said he’ll think about it. The graduate student didn’t make his decision until Saturday morning, and he responded with the second 20-point outing of his career. Dambrot elaborated on his respect for Castro-Caneddy in his postgame comments, revealing the inner workings of the player-coach relationship fans rarely see.
• Duquesne seized control of the game when Tarin Smith took over for a stretch in the second half. Matched up against smaller guards, the 6-foot-2 junior attacked the basket consistently in the second half. During the game’s key 12-4 run, he scored eight straight points and assisted on another basket.
Smith said afterwards he saw the success Castro-Caneddy had getting to the rim in the first half and recognized St. Francis Brooklyn was having a difficult time guarding the Dukes on the ball.
• Williams Jr. and Tydus Verhoeven—both freshmen—had moments yesterday where you can see their potential. They’re being asked to not play like rookies and for the most part, they did that against St. Francis Brooklyn. It’s going to be fun watching their development.
• Leading up to the season, Dambrot emphasized how much the offense would run through Robinson and eventually Chas Brown once he returns from injury. Robinson was much of a non-factor Saturday night, though, saddled by two first half fouls. He finished with two points and one rebound in 24 minutes of play.
As Dambrot said in his postgame comments, Robinson is going to play more minutes and in a role—scoring the ball consistently—than he’s been asked to do at this point in his career.
• Despite struggling from the field, Mike Lewis II still managed to score in double-figures. He was 2-13 from the floor yet was 9-9 from the free throw line.
Lewis II ranked among the top free throw shooters in the A-10 last year and looked the part again Saturday. Dambrot said afterwards if the Dukes ever win again with a shooting performance like that from their top player, he’ll buy all the media a steak dinner. I’m holding you to your word, coach.
• The final attendance for the home opener was 1,833. For a 5:30 p.m. Saturday tip, I think athletic director Dave Harper had to be pleased with the turnout. I imagine the late start time was affected by the football team’s noon contest against Central Connecticut—an NEC game nonetheless.
The Dukes’ also ran up against a full and meaningful slate of Division I college football. Afternoon kickoffs between Georgia and Auburn and Wisconsin and Iowa certainly did Duquesne no favors, nor did evening contests between Alabama and Mississippi State, TCU and Oklahoma, and Notre Dame and Miami.