On Monday, the Duquesne men’s basketball team spent its second day in its new arena, the highly-anticipated UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, getting ready for its matchup against Dayton on Tuesday night at 9 p.m.
The matchup will be the first of many at Duquesne’s new UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, and although limited fans will be in attendance, head coach Keith Dambrot is still elated to be finally playing on a true home court.
“The thing that’s really exciting about this place is that I just don’t think they could’ve done a better job with it,” he said. “It’s the perfect building for us. Just like Gonzaga has a perfect building for Gonzaga. It’s the perfect size, it’s well done, it’s different, it’s not a cookie-cutter NBA arena, and when we get the next phases done it will be even better. But it’s really a great fan experience I think. So I think that’s kind of unique about this building. It’s not like any other building that anybody has seen.”
Throughout the season, the Dukes have been playing their home games at La Roche University, about ten miles away from Duquesne’s campus. The new state-of-the-art UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse will feature two high-definition video boards, four lower level ribbon scoreboards, a new scorers table, a new sound system, and more. All of these improvements are great for the fan experience, but Dambrot says, it means more to the program and to the school than just some new scoreboards.
“The biggest thing I can tell you is that when the building was being built, most people were impressed that Duquesne finally made the commitment,” he added. “They knew when I came that I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think they were committed. You don’t leave your hometown where all of your friends and family are with a fairly well-established program to come to Duquesne where the last nine head coaches have been fired unless you think there is strong commitment. They respect that Duquesne is trying to be good. The good teams in this league are all committed to being good, and there’s a lot of finances that go into men’s basketball.”
The Dukes will be taking on Dayton (10-4, 6-3 A-10), a team that beat Duquesne by nine just a few weeks ago. The Flyers are currently the fourth-best team in the conference in scoring defense, and have only given up an average of 64.9 points per game. They also rank fifth in the conference in defensive field goal percentage, allowing their opponents to shoot just 30.7% from the field this season.
“They’re very conservative defensively,” Dambrot said about the Flyers. “They’re big on the wings so they use their length and they play straight analytics. They’re one of the few teams that won’t double us as much in the post, they’ll play us straight up, because they don’t think the post shot is going to beat them, that two players are going to beat them. You know, he [Anthony Grant] was in the NBA, so that’s a straight NBA analytic. The threes will beat you, the twos wont. The free-throw line will beat you, the twos won’t. So they’re good at what they do, they’re just a well polished team. It’ll be a close game, I’m sure of that. For us, we’ve just got to keep them out of transition. We got beat in transition last game.”
— Dayton Basketball (@DaytonMBB) January 31, 2021
In the Jan. 13 contest at Dayton, Duquesne went into halftime with a one-point lead, but could not hold on, losing 72-63. Nine different players scored in that game for the Dukes, led by Marcus Weathers’ 19-point performance. Tavian Dunn-Martin struggled shooting the ball, scoring eight points on 4-of-12 shooting, including 0 for 4 from deep. Dayton was led by Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher, who scored 19 and 18 points, respectively.
The loss against Dayton came just days after Sincere Carry and Lamar Norman Jr. both left the Dukes program earlier in the season, and at that point many had counted the Dukes out. Since then, freshmen Chad Baker, Andre Harris, Mike Bekelja, and Toby Okani have all played increased minutes and made huge strides for Dambrot. The depth and youth of this team have really made it clear that Dambrot is building a program that is bound to have success in the near future.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 31, 2021
“Throughout my career I’ve kind of built my teams on team orientation and having a lot of depth. We went through a stretch at Akron where I think the leading scorer averaged 11, ten, which is hard, I didn’t really like it, but it’s good because if you lose a guy you can still recover. I didn’t really know how it would all work but what it has done is it’s made our young guys have to play, and it’s made them play early, which in the long run is really going to help us. Toby, Chad Baker, Tyson Acuff, Mikey, Andre Harris, they’ve all had to play. You take some short-term hits, but in the long term it should help you if they can improve. With every bad event, there could be a good event. That’s kind of how I view life.”
Dambrot and the Dukes will take on Dayton on Tuesday night in the debut of UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, with tip-off set for 9 p.m. on ESPNU.