RICHMOND, Va. – Tavian Dunn-Martin wasn’t having much luck shooting early on in the Siegel Center on Tuesday.
The Duquesne junior guard went 2-of-5 from the floor in the first half and 0-of-3 from three-point range. Some other players might’ve folded after a disappointing start like that, with their team trailing at halftime, but quitting simply isn’t is the Huntington, West Virginia native’s DNA.
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With a bit of encouragement from his coaches, he kept shooting in the second half, and it paid off in a big way for the Dukes against the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams.
Dunn-Martin scored 19 points in the second half and overtime, knocking down five of his next 10 three-point attempts. He finished with 23 points, five rebounds and three steals, powering Duquesne on a second-half comeback to win 80-77 over VCU in overtime.
“Just never give up. It starts at the top. Our coach gave us a lot of energy going in. We just came out and fought until the very end,” Dunn-Martin told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “The first half, I think I was falling away from my shots. My coaches were telling me to stay with it, so I just stayed with it in the second half and they just fell.”
An announced sold-out crowd of 7,637 fans packed into VCU’s basketball arena Tuesday, and what they got to witness was Duquesne’s first-ever win over the Rams, the longtime power in the Atlantic-10 conference. The Dukes had previously been winless in seven games vs. VCU.
What’s more, third-year head Keith Dambrot had never beaten VCU in Richmond either, even going back to his time at Akron.
“It’s a first for them and a first for me. I played (VCU) a bunch at Akron,” Dambrot said. “It’s a big win. Anytime you can win on the road and in here – this is one of the most hostile environments you’ll ever play in.”
‘We just battled’
The Dukes fell into an early hole as VCU jumped out to a six-point lead to start the game. Dambrot stalked the sideline, frustrated with how his team was playing. VCU would go on to lead by as much as 10 points in the opening frame.
While VCU might not have the talent this year that it’s had in years past, the Rams are still stout defensively this season. They entered Tuesday night’s match-up ranking fifth in the nation in turnover percentage, fifth in steal percentage, fifth in turnover margin and 33rd in defensive efficiency.
The Rams were forcing 17.3 turnovers per-game and made the Dukes cough up nine possessions in the first half.
Still, Dambrot believed that Duquesne’s first half issues were more brought on by the Dukes themselves and not VCU’s defense.
“I thought we played a really poor first half. Offensively, we struggled. So, I just told them, basically, we can’t play any worse. So, just battle,” Dambrot said. “Keep battling. (VCU) is built on toughness, so we had to match their toughness. We did a better job when we quit giving up so many lay-ups and made them shoot the three-ball.”
Duquesne trailed by just four points at halftime, but with less than nine minutes remaining they were back in a double-digit hole, down 12 points. But the Dukes never quit. They embarked on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit down, a run that was capped off by a three-pointer from Lamar Norman Jr.
The sophomore from Grand Rapids, Michigan would later score the basket that sent the game into overtime, getting a feed in the left corner and driving along the baseline to sink an in-traffic lay-up with 5.6 seconds left in regulation. He finished the game with eight points.
“We were down and out, but we just battled,” Dambrot said. “So, I give our guys a lot of credit for having the toughness to battle back.”
Carry finds other ways to impact the game
In addition to Dunn-Martin, Marcus Weathers and Michael Hughes turned in good performances for the Dukes too. Weathers finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Hughes chipped in 14 points, eight rebounds and a block.
Duquesne’s usual star, sophomore guard Sincere Carry, didn’t have a great night shooting the ball, but found other ways to contribute to the Dukes’ historic win.
While the Farrell, Pa. native shot just 2-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-4 from three-point range, he still had six rebounds and a game-high seven assists to go along with his seven points.
As lanes into the paint opened up thanks in-part to Dunn-Martin’s three-point shooting, Carry was able to find space to drive and kick late in the game. In overtime, he dished out the assist to Baylee Steele for a three-pointer that proved to be the game-winning shot.
“I thought, when the game mattered, when it really got close, he really played well. He made some big plays for us when it mattered,” Dambrot said of Carry. “He threw the ball back to Baylee; he threw the ball back to Marcus. I thought Baylee Steele’s three was probably the biggest play of the game.”
Program continues to reach heights under Dambrot
With every win, it seems like Duquesne is hitting another milestone under Dambrot.
The victory over VCU wasn’t just the Dukes’ or Dambrot’s first over the Rams, but it was also their 11th A-10 win of the season, which is a single season school record for the Dukes.
Additionally, the win brought the Dukes’ overall record on the season to 21-8, which is their best record through 29 games since 1962. For reference as to how long ago that was, Dambrot was four years old.
“He’s an amazing coach. He built it from the ground up,” Dunn-Martin said. “The players bought in to him and he bought in to the players. We’re just going to continue to build.”
Duquesne is also now 8-1 in overtime games under Dambrot too, and increased its school record of A-10 road wins to six.
The Dukes are now in fourth place in the A-10 and have one more regular season game remaining in Richmond. In that game and in the conference tournament, they’ll have the opportunity to build a resume for the postseason. The NCAA tournament might not come calling, but the NIT most certainly would. Should the Dukes play in the NIT, it would be their first trip to the second-tier tourney since 2009.
“There’s a lot to fine-tune. Sometimes we’re the ugly duckling, but we’re just good enough to win,” Dambrot said. “You got to take your hat off to these guys. To get six roads wins in this league, that tells you you’re a pretty good team. So, I’m proud of what they’ve done. I think we can play better and I think we will play better.”