WASHINGTON, D.C. – There’s no denying Keith Dambrot has elevated the Duquesne basketball program. In his third season he has his most complete team yet, and the Dukes have not started a campaign this well since 1971-1972.
Their 14-2 record is not going unnoticed around the A-10, either. While Saturday’s narrow road victory over George Washington won’t convince the most arduous naysayer that the Dukes are for real, it’s the type of game that signals Dambrot’s group is taking another step.
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“Now that we’re winning a little bit, people are going to gear up for us,” Dambrot said. “Every team has got a little bit different makeup—this team bothered us a little bit. We had them on the ropes, and we didn’t finish them off at the end of the first half, and it almost came back to haunt us.”
For what it’s worth, the last three games at the Smith Center have all been decided by two possessions or less. Much like last year, the Colonials continued to fight despite falling behind early. Led by their young backcourt, George Washington rallied from an 11-point deficit, but Duquesne’s veteran group never flinched.
After losing their focus defensively to end the first half, the Dukes would not repeat the same mistake twice. Duquesne went ahead for good with 2:05 remaining, and the Dukes ratcheted up the defensive pressure along with it, holding the Colonials without a point the rest of the way.
“We’ve been preaching to get more stops in the second half because we usually slow down in the first half,” guard Sincere Carry said. “So for us to come together as a team and get those stops down the stretch, they were key, and that’s why we won the game.”
Coaches and players always talk about stacking wins. Well, the Dukes have four conference wins in four tries, more than any other team in the conference. It’s early but it’s definitely not gone unnoticed.
Sin for the Win
Carry may have went scoreless in the first half but it did not deter the Dukes’ lead guard from playing his best over the final 20 minutes. As Duquesne fans have come to expect, the Farrell, Pa., native took control when it mattered the most.
After closing the first half on a 13-2 run to tie the game at 32, the Colonials continued to surge out of the break, building their largest lead, 37-34, just minutes into the second half. Carry responded with an old-fashion three-point play, his first points of the game, and the Dukes went ahead when the sophomore found Marcus Weathers for a mid-range jumper. His 3-pointer minutes later stretched Duquesne’s lead to five.
But the story of the game was Carry’s final shot. Out of a timeout with 2:32 remaining, George Washington’s Armel Potter lobbed a pass to Jameer Nelson Jr., who’s alley-oop slam brought the Smith Center to its loudest roar. The Colonials had seemingly delivered a fatal blow, or so they had thought.
With the ball in his hand, Carry used a Michael Hughes screen near the top of the key to free up for the go-ahead basket.
“I got a hand-off on the first screen and he [defender] went under, and then I got a ball screen and he went under that, too,” Carry said of the play. “I just saw him keep going under screens so I got an open shot at the top of the key. I get a lot of reps in before and after practice so I was comfortable with shooting the shot.
“I was just looking to make a play, whether it was my shot or somebody else’s shot.”
Carry finished 11 points, one shy of his season average, and added eight rebounds and three assists. He also did all of this while dealing with foul trouble.
“He’s been in a lot of big games at this point in his career, and I think that’s what I most proud of,” Dambrot said. “Things didn’t go our way but our guys made plays when it mattered. Mike Hughes was an example. He had a rough go of it but then when it mattered. Marcus got a couple big boards when it mattered, and Sin is always going to make plays.”
Down to the Wire
With Saturday’s victory, Duquesne improved to 40-3 all-time under Dambrot when leading with 5 minutes left. The Dukes certainly earned this one, too, as they trailed on three separate occasions. Yet the visitors never flinched, getting big contributions from Weathers and Hughes before Carry delivered the game-winner.
“You know we’re going to be in close game after close game, and the teams that win close games generally have a chance to do some great things,” Dambrot said. “We have to continue to understand how to win close games, and mostly it’s the defensive end and secondly, it’s sharing the ball and making the right play.”
Weathers also snagged two key defensive rebounds and intercepted a pass in the final four seconds to seal the win. He was a big reason why the Colonials were limited to just three shot attempts in the final 2:27.
Embracing Your Role
Tavian Dunn-Martin, the reigning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year, played up to his role against the Colonials. The Dukes jumped out to a 9-2 lead but the offense sputtered over the next several minutes as George Washington battled back to tie the game. Insert Dunn-Martin.
His drilled his first shot attempt—a 3-pointer—to break the 9-all tie, and his second triple at the 6:52 mark of the first half ignited a 13-4 run. He added another three during that stretch and found Weathers in transition following a turnover for an alley-oop dunk. Suddenly, the Dukes were up 11, their largest lead of the afternoon.
Martin-Dunn finished the first half with nine points, two steals, and three assists. He was instant offense on an afternoon where some of his teammates struggled to get going. There might not be a player on the team who better understands his role and embraces it as much as the junior guard does.
“My teammates let me come and do what I have to do each and every night,” Dunn-Martin said afterwards. “They want me to create for them, I create for myself, create for them—it’s the offense. I just feel comfortable in that role.”