PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne and Pitt will be meeting for the 86th time Friday night, and head coach Keith Dambrot is no stranger to the rivalry. His father Sid played for the Dukes from 1952-54. The personal connection to the program and the city of Pittsburgh were a selling point for Dambrot when the job opened last spring. He’s personally invested in restoring Duquesne basketball to the level when his father played.
During Sid’s career, the Dukes went 69-15, reached as high as No. 3 in the AP Poll, and won the NIT. Duquesne thumped the Panthers, 79-43, on Dec. 12, 1953, the only time Sid played against the Panthers. The teams didn’t meet in 1952 or 1954.
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Growing up, Dambrot said his father likened the Panthers to a “junior varsity” team and that “Pitt wasn’t even in the equation when he played.”
“Then Duquesne became a JV team,” Dambrot said. “I do know the history according him—to Sid—and that’s a very biased opinion. I can say earlier on when I was young, my dad was very distraught at how it flipped. He didn’t like it.”
Up until 1978, Duquesne led the all-time series 24-14. Since then, the Dukes have just eight wins against their crosstown rivals compared to 39 losses. They haven’t won back-to-back games over Pitt since the 1980 season—the teams met twice that year. The roles have completely reversed.
Dambrot never attended the City Game growing up but admitted he followed Pitt as a child, watching Billy Knight and the Panthers take on NC State in the 1974 Elite Eight. While an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan, Dambrot faced Pitt and then sophomore Sean Miller in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve been around the game long enough to know Pitt and Duquesne,” Dambrot said.
He did add that in order for the rivalry to be great again, the Dukes must consistently put a winning product on the floor.
“If both teams could be good, it could be an unbelievable rivalry,” Dambrot said. “It could be Duke-North Carolina.”
Dambrot spent the final 10 minutes of practice Wednesday preaching toughness and how to respond to adversity. The Dukes have wilted in the second half in consecutive losses to Robert Morris and Cornell.
“When we get hit in the mouth, our reaction isn’t very good yet because of all the losses that have piled up on them,” Dambrot said referencing the returners.
Against the Colonials, the Dukes went more than eight minutes without a field goal as Robert Morris turned a one-point deficit into an eight-point advantage. History repeated itself against Cornell.
The Big Red outscored Duquesne 23-9 during a nine-minute stretch, building a 13-point cushion after trailing nearly all of the first half and much of the second. Duquesne led by four before the game-deciding run occurred.
“So I told our guys today when you get hit in the mouth next time, use the whole clock,” Dambrot said. “Just don’t try to make big plays, just simplify it and use the whole clock.”
SENDING A MESSAGE
Dambrot notably sat sophomore guard Mike Lewis II to start the game against Cornell. Lewis II had failed to score a point–missing all six field goal attempts and both free throws–in the team’s loss to Robert Morris.
Dambrot said the reason Lewis II did not start was because he felt Lewis II was the third-best guard on the defensive side of the ball and the Dukes needed to better defensively.
“The only thing I told him about it is everybody’s got hit in the mouth,” Dambrot said of Lewis II. “You have two choices when you get hit in the mouth: you put the white flag up or you keep fighting to work.”
Lewis II responded with 13 points against Cornell, including hitting four three-pointers.
“The thing I loved about Mike is he obviously did not like not starting, but he didn’t let it affect him,” Dambrot said.
Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. tonight at PPG Paints Arena.