Keith Dambrot’s Duquesne Dukes continued their hot start to the season over the weekend with a massive comeback victory over Indiana State.
The Dukes looked to their strong veteran core to pull them from behind a come out with the ‘W,’ as Tre Williams, Jimmy Clark III, Joe Reece, and Dae Dae Grant combined for more than 65 points en route to the 92-86 win.
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“We’re getting used to winning games,” Dukes’ forward Austin Rotroff told Pittsburgh Sports Now in an exclusive interview. It’s important. We have confidence that we’re going to win every game. I think we were down 20-4 at one point in the first half, and we just had confidence in our defense and our effort that we were going to weather the storm. We’ve come back from deficits a couple of times this season. Even though it’s not ideal, we don’t want to get down, each time we come back from a deficit we get a little bit more confidence in playing the right way, playing one possession at a time, and really emphasizing it on defense. That was a good win for us, and I hope that we don’t have too many more victories that we come from behind 10-plus points in, but you’re always thankful for those wins. It just shows that we’re a really resilient group.”
In the win, the Dukes earned 7+ minutes from each of their four freshmen, with Kareem Rozier leading the young guns with ten points.
“We have a lot of older vets this year who, it’s their last season of college basketball, but a big part of our success is our younger guys too, our freshman especially,” Rotroff added. “Our four freshmen are unbelievable. Dave, Chabi, Matüs, and ‘Reem. They’re very good players and really good people, really coachable. I think they have a super, super bright future. If they just stay the course and trust the system, I think they’ll be really successful here in a couple of years. I’m really excited to watch their development.”
Aside from Rozier, the big rookies — Matüs Hronsky, Halil Barre, and David Dixon — combined to grab five rebounds and score four points in some solid minutes off the bench. The three young bigs have all looked up to Williams and Rotroff inside and have given the Dukes hope for the future of their front court with their own production.
🇸🇰 Matúš Hronský marked his D1 debut with 13 PTS (5-6 FG, 1-1 FT) & 2 STL vs Montana in a 91-63 win by Duquesne. The freshman from Wasatch Academy was a factor on both ends and displayed some absolutely remarkable shotmaking skills at 6-foot-8. @HronskyMatus @DuqMBB @WATigersBB pic.twitter.com/muetcrC7fH
— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) November 9, 2022
“They’ve already had some good success, and they’re just so young in their basketball career,” Rotroff said about the group. “Being a fifth-year senior, there’s a lot of ins and outs of the game, a lot of details, that I have the luxury of knowing because I have been here for so long. But when I was a freshman in their shoes, I know that I really didn’t know what was going on at times. I felt like I was just running around with my head cut off. You can see that sometimes too with our freshmen, but the fact that they’ve been able to have such a great impact so far without even really being able to have a lot of time to develop that knowledge of the game that they will be, even after one full season, they’re going to develop their brains so much. They’re just scratching the surface as far as knowledge of the game. They get their bodies right; the sky is the limit for them. They’re going to be really, really good.”
Rotroff himself is having a career-year for the Dukes, averaging a career-best 6.3 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. The veteran big man has also been making a huge impact on the offensive glass, as according to Kenpom.com, Rotroff leads the entire nation in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, at 22.1%. He sits almost two percentage points higher than the second highest in the country, Purdue’s Zach Edey.
“That’s one of my goals, honestly,” Rotroff said about his success on the glass. “That’s kind of the one statistic you can be selfish about, is getting rebounds. I know that can be a strong suit of mine, and coming back from injury, it’s just a way to make an immediate impact. So that’s one of the things I really focus on, you know, trying to be good on defense, trying to get rebounds, and playing my role the best, I can. Just helping to contribute to wins is mainly my focus going into games.”
Rotroff has yet to play a full season in his five-year career for Duquesne due to unfortunate injuries, including a foot injury that held him out for most of last season.
“My health is feeling good,” he said. “Knock on wood, I am feeling the best physically I ever have. It took me a little while. I didn’t start practice until mid-September. It took me about a month, month and a half to get in the groove of things, get back in shape. I was out for around ten months. But right now, I’m feeling really good, really comfortable out there. Hopefully it continues for the rest of the season. I’m just taking it a day at a time, one game at a time, and just trying to make it through the year.”
Duquesne now prepares for 5-7 Winthrop, who comes to town for a 2 p.m. matchup on Wednesday, Dec. 21. The Dukes are looking to earn their tenth win of the season and will become just the second Atlantic 10 team this year to surpass that mark already (Fordham: 11-1).
“A lot of defensive emphasis over the past week or two,” he said about the Dukes’ focus in practice. “A lot of emphasis on the defensive end, just early positioning, because we need to work on getting ourselves established as a group, kind of building that wall on defense and getting into the gaps, deterring the opposing offenses from driving us, because we get driven a lot. Then just tightening up our one-on-one defense. We’ve made a lot of progress over the past couple of weeks in doing that. Keep emphasizing that going forward, and we’re going to be pretty good defensively.”
Catch Wednesday afternoon’s game on ESPN+ or in-person at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse. For tickets, click here.