PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The early returns on the Keith Dambrot era at Duquesne have been positive through two games. A win Sunday against crosstown rival Robert Morris would ramp up excitement around the program to a new level.
The Dukes seek their first 3-0 start since 2015 when they welcome the Colonials to the AJ Palumbo Center. 2015 is also the last time they beat Robert Morris. The Colonials have dominated the series of late, winning six of the last seven meetings, including a 64-60 win last year at PPG Paints Arena.
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Duquesne leads the all-time series 16-11 and holds an 8-3 advantage at the Palumbo Center, but the matchup shifted in the Colonials’ favor under head coach Andy Toole, who took over the program in 2010.
Dambrot and Toole are no strangers, either. They worked together earlier this year at the Pennsylvania Coaches Clinic and were part of the Coaches vs. Cancer initiative amongst Pittsburgh university basketball coaches.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Dambrot said of Toole. “He was a big and upcoming young guy. A little bit surprising that he’s still here.”
In his eighth season at Robert Morris, Toole is one of the youngest coaches in the country at 37-years old. He’s guided the Colonials to postseason four times, including a NCAA tournament bid in 2014-15. Dambrot was hired at Duquesne to replicate the success Toole has had in Moon Township.
Duquesne improved to 2-0 Tuesday night, defeating VMI, 77-61, behind the duo of Mike Lewis II and Tarin Smith. Lewis II bounced back from a rough season opener against St. Francis Brooklyn, scoring a game-high 22 points to lead the Dukes against the Keydets. Smith scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half and is averaging a team-leading 19.5 points through two games.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) November 17, 2017
The Dukes have had to fend off second half rallies in both their games. Smith has played a key role in each contest, scoring eight straight points against St. Francis Brooklyn and six in a row versus VMI to essentially put Duquesne in control for good.
Despite a 0-3 start to the season, Robert Morris has the depth and talent to present problems for Duquesne, whose rotation of big men is limited by early season injuries. Dambrot expects a close contest, much like the first two games.
“They’re going to play really hard,” Dambrot said of the Colonials. “They’re very similar to some of these teams, you know, not that big, but probably execute a little bit better than some of these other teams.”
Robert Morris has opened the season with a grueling stretch of three games in six days, spanning 4,886 miles and three different time zones (Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific). It’s part of an eight-game road trip to start the year. Dambrot joked after the VMI win, “I’m hoping they’re dead tired on that West Coast coming back to Pittsburgh.”
Due to the construction of the new UPMC Events Center on campus, the Colonials will play all of their home games—12 in all—this season at either PPG Paints or the Palumbo Center. A whole new meaning for the term, “road warriors.”
— RMU Basketball (@RMUMBasketball) November 18, 2017
The Dukes are holding opponents to less than 66 points a game and outscoring opponents by 13 points despite shooting only 40 percent from the field. Duquesne’s ability to get to the line has been the difference in its first two contest—the Dukes have made 23 more free throws than their opponents have attempted.
“Everyone one of these games is going to be the same for us,” Dambrot said. “We just don’t have enough pop on a consistent basis to kill anybody. We’re just going to have to play through the ebbs and flows and figure out how to win.”
“I have a lot of respect for Robert Morris, but it will be a very similar game to these games.”
If true, Sunday’s contest should be close, and one fans won’t want to miss.