PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Robert Morris traveled 4,886 miles over the first week of the college basketball season, losing games to Ohio State, Grand Canyon and San Diego in the process. Entering Sunday night’s contest against crosstown rival Duquesne, one would have figured the Colonials might be a little jet-lagged.
That was not the case.
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Robert Morris used a late 14-5 run to hand the Dukes and Keith Dambrot their first loss of the season, 66-59, at the AJ Palumbo Center.
The Dukes, whom played their first two games at home, struggled to execute down the stretch against Robert Morris’ aggressive man-to-man defense.
The Colonials prevailed behind the inside combo of Malik Petteway and Kolby Thomas and the sturdy play of their top two returners Matty McConnell and Dachon Burke.
“I’m really proud of our guys to come in here and pull out a win,” Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole said. “I thought we played a really gritty game.”
It was a close game throughout as neither team led by more than nine until late, and the score was either tied or the lead exchanged hands 15 times.
Tydus Verhoeven’s tip-in with 8:57 remaining put the home team in front, 48-47, giving the Dukes’ their first lead in more than six minutes and only their second since the 6:13 mark of the first half.
After exchanging empty possessions, Petteway scored inside to push the Colonials ahead by one. His basket with 5:54 remaining extended the lead to 53-50, and the advantage stretched to five on Thomas’ layup.
Leondre Washginton’s high-arcing runner over Verhoeven with 2:37 left made it 58-52, and McConnell’s steal and layup with 1:13 put the finishing touches on the win.
“I thought we executed better,” Toole said compared to the Colonials first three games. “I thought we were able to get good looks…and we’re able to find the open man.”
Duquesne went more than seven minutes without a field goal and missed eight of its final 10 shots. Fatigue also played a factor at the line where the Dukes were off the mark on four of their final six attempts.
“We just didn’t have much juice when it mattered,” Dambrot said. “We made no plays, we got tired. I give them credit. They travelled across the country and had more energy than we did.”
After being held scoreless against San Diego, McConnell bounced back with 13 points, but his biggest contribution came on the defensive end where he held Duquesne’s Mike Lewis in check all night. Lewis II finished without a single point, missing all 10 field goal attempts and both of his free throw tries.
Jordan Robinson’s foul trouble and Eric James’ injury in the first half limited the Dukes to essentially a six-man rotation. Five players recorded 33 minutes or more of action compared to just three for Robert Morris. All nine Colonials that played logged 10-plus minutes.
“The most disappointing thing to me is we splintered when things went poorly, which I can’t tolerate,” Dambrot said.
Robert Morris dominated inside, out rebounding the Dukes, 49-32, including a 21-6 advantage on the offensive glass. The Colonials recorded 18 second-chance points and outscored Duquesne by 20 in the paint.
“We looked at the numbers from the first two games and Tray Woodall brought up the fact they’ve give up 13 offensive rebounds on average,” Toole said of Duquesne’s rebounding struggles. “So we talked to our front court guys about how many extra possessions can you get us?”
With Robinson limited, Verhoeven was asked to play 33 minutes, the most of his young career. He made several plays throughout the second half to keep the score close, especially on the defensive end where he tied Derrick Alston’s Duquesne freshman record with seven blocks (1991). In addition to the blocks, Verhoeven finished 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists and one steal.
“I thought Tydus was a force around the rim,” Dambrot said. “Other than Zeke Marshall, he’s the best shot blocker I’ve had, and he doesn’t even know what he’s doing yet.”
After trailing much of the first half, Robert Morris surged ahead late in the period behind a 12-0 run. Washington sparked the Colonials with four straight points, tying the game at 25 and scoring again on Robert Morris’ next possession to give the visitors just their second lead of the game. Petteway’s basket with 2:11 left gave Robert Morris its largest lead of the half, 33-25.
In a bit of foreshadowing, the Dukes went five minutes without a field goal as Robert Morris temporarily seized control of the game. Verhoeven’s and-one play and Renee Castro-Caneddy’s two free throws trimmed Duquesne’s deficit to 33-30 at the break.
McConnell’s three-point play four minutes into the second half stretched Robert Morris’ lead to 41-34, but Duquesne answered with eight straight points, the last three coming on a triple by Eric Williams Jr. to make it 42-41. Petteway’s dunk on the other end gave the lead right back to Colonials, setting the stage for the final 10 minutes.
Neither team particularly shot the ball well, and they combined for 35 total turnovers. Robert Morris won despite shooting 8-17 from the charity stripe in the second half and hitting just three total three-pointers.
Petteway finished with a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Burke also had a double-double, totaling 11 points and 10 rebounds. Thomas chipped in with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Williams Jr. and Castro-Caneddy both had a game-high 18 points, but the Dukes’ guard trio of Smith, Castro-Caneddy, and Lewis II struggled to make an impact all night.
“We just challenged our backcourt to say can we make them shoot a low percentage,” Toole said of Duquesne’s three guards. “We knew they were going to get shots off, but we needed them to shoot a low percentage.”
Robert Morris will return to action Friday at Norfolk State while Duquesne has the holiday week off. The Dukes host Cornell next Monday at 7 p.m.