PITTSBURGH– After the Duquesne men’s basketball team lost at Dayton a couple of seasons ago, Dambrot was very matter of fact when assessing how the two teams matched up.
“Duquesne is full of players that Dayton did not want and they have that chip on their shoulder,” he said then.
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Indeed, Dambrot has Ohio ties and does recruit there where, he runs into battles with Dayton among others. Currently Duquesne has two players in Mike Bekelja and Austin Rotroff who hail from the Buckeye State. In addition to that duo, Tavian Dunn-Martin and Mike Hughes both came with Dambrot from Akron to Duquesne and Marcus Weathers did the same from Miami (Ohio).
The latter three are seniors who have been through countless battles but Dayton has always been a bench mark. One which Duquesne was successful against once in seven tries under Dambrot heading into Tuesday night’s contest, which just so happened to be the debut of the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
It was a successful debut on many levels but none may be more important than a 69-64 victory over Dayton.
“This win is big time,” Weathers said. “I know in my career here at Duquesne it has been pretty tough to go toe-to-toe with Dayton and beat them. It speaks about our guys and a lot of the growth that they’ve made in the short couple of months we’ve been together.”
The victory came in front of around 200 individuals which included family, friends, students, media and university personnel and allowed Duquesne to open its new facility on the right notw.
“It would’ve been a downer not to,” said Dambrot.
POST PLAY A DETERMINING FACTOR
Given Duquesne’s preferred style if play, it should not come as much of a surprise that its post players, most specifically Hughes and Weathers had their way as they are closer to resembling last year’s form.
Dayton was not aided by Jordy Tshimanga being in foul trouble all night and Moulaye Sissoko being unavailable due to injury. Duquesne also outrebounded Dayton 38-31 in the contest.
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“We’re beating people’s brains in the inside which is important for us, it’s how we’ve built our program,” Dambrot said. ” They played small against us the first time and we struggled for whatever reasons. Marcus and Mike are playing how they did last year and that makes us a contender if we make a few. We’re better defensively this year than we’ve ever been and we should get better because we are making a lot of young mistakes but we have a lot of length to cover some of it up.”
With Duquesne’s post options in command, it went with a four-freshman rotation on the court pairing them with either of Dukes post player and finding success, which will only bring further confidence moving forward.
“It speaks volumes,” said Weathers. “A lot of those guys practice hard every day so to see the go out there and Coach Dambrot have trust in the younger guys. It speaks to their basketball IQ.”
BEKELJA SILENTLY SHINES
While his final stat line read two points and three rebounds, Mike Bekelja may have been the most important Duquesne player on the entire evening.
By no means did Bekelja do anything that jumped off the page but perhaps that is a compliment in and of itself because it meant he was invisible and avoided making mistakes, which is not easy for a freshman, especially one that missed a month of game action due to a stress fracture.
“Playing Mike Bekelja has really helped us because he doesn’t do anything he’s just a steady force,” Dambrot said. “He guards, plays good team defense and moves the ball. His stat line looks horrible but ever since we’ve played him, we’ve won. That’s not a coincidence.”
It feels as though this is becoming a subheading in every one of these deeper dives, but once again Duquesne was called for a technical foul, two to be more specific as Hughes and Chad Baker both were called for one.
Hughes’s whistle came with 3:26 remaining in regulation as he argued a foul, his first of the evening heading into the final media timeout and an official quickly gestured for the technical foul.
Baker’s came with 11.9 seconds remaining in regulation as he was celebrating a block which would have otherwise secured Duquesne’s victory as it had a tough time closing Dayton out.
The Hughes technical appeared to be Dayton’s rallying point that would allow it to go on a run as Duquesne did not convert a field goal in the final 6:59.
Moving forward, at least in Baker’s case, Dambrot immediately grabbed him after exchanging waves and some pleasantries with Dayton coach Anthony Grant and junior guard Jalen Crutcher. Dambrot appeared agitated but both walked off the court with an arm around the other.
“I didn’t say anything to Mike because he might have gotten me a technical foul,” Dambrot said. “He’s done a good job controlling himself versus last year. Chad I was trying not to get fired. I wanted to make a point without making a huge scene. He needs to do better. At some point I’ve got to hit him between the eyes, not literally. He needs to be disciplined but he’s a good player, don’t be misled.”