Keith Dambrot lost it.
The Dukes coach went absolutely ballistic on the court after Michael Hughes was called for a blocking foul as Lamar Stevens drove to the hoop with 5.4 seconds remaining in a tie game. Dambrot was assessed two technical fouls and ejected as players and assistants restrained him from going after the officials, and the result, six free throws to visiting Penn State, was the difference in the game as the Nittany Lions came away with a 73-67 win over Duquesne on Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The finish instantly started going viral on social media and was destined to be replayed on highlights packages for days to come.
Keith Dambrot going full hold me back pic.twitter.com/DCi9WeutrG
— Fundamentally Sound (@FundamentallySD) December 20, 2018
It was a stunning end to a back-and-forth game and overshadowed some excellent individual performances from both teams. After the game, Dambrot sat down and was honest about how he saw the final play unfold, leading to his total loss of temper.
— Matt Grubba (@Matt_Grubba) December 20, 2018
I followed up by asking Dambrot what he said to his players after the game, and he was remorseful for the outcome but still adamant about standing up for his team.
"I apologized to them. I feel bad. You never want to take the game away from the kids," Dambrot said. "I didn't think he'd T me. I guess I miscalculated that. But I'm not just going to stand there and not get three (calls) in a row. I'm too old for that, especially in a home game. But it's still stupid, you can't a technical foul at that point, but I really didn't think he'd T me. I thought he'd at least come over first, but that's the way it goes."
Dambrot continued: "Did I deserve a technical? I mean, I stomped enough to get a technical. Maybe not at that point in the game. If I'm the referee, I'm not doing it. I know they've got the rules, sportsmanship and all that, and it wasn't good sportsmanship on my part. But you've got to fight for your guys, too, I agree. I'm always going to fight for my guys. (We) put too much time in together not to."
Hughes, who transferred to Duquesne (8-3) from Akron to continue to play for Dambrot, said after the game that's what he expects from his passionate coach.
"It just shows his loyalty to his team. He's not going to let us be taken advantage of," the redshirt sophomore center said. "He's going to go out of his way for us, and it doesn't matter what it has to do with, he's always there for his team. That's always been a fact in my time being with him. He'll do anything for his players."
Rasir Bolton made all four free throws for the two technicals, and Stevens — who posted 25 points and 10 rebounds for Penn State (6-5) — made both of his for the blocking foul to establish the final margin.
Penn State appeared to be pulling away when it opened up a 55-49 lead on a Stevens 3-pointer with 7:27 left in the game. But the Dukes stormed back in front with a 10-0 run to set up a final six minutes in which the lead changed hands three times and the game was tied three other times.
The Dukes led 39-32 at halftime and were able to hang in the game despite making just four field goals in the second half. Duquesne made 29 of 32 free throws in the game, including 20 of 21 in the second half to provide most of their offense.
Even with the success at the line, the Dukes know their offensive struggles likely cost them a chance to win the game before it came down to the contentious final play.
"We can put ourselves in a predicament to let the other three guys on the court make a decision. We have to make that decision ourselves," Hughes said. "We can't let them have control of the game, because we know how that's going to go whenever it comes to high major (versus) mid-major team."
THE BIG THREE
My top performers ...
1. Lamar Stevens
Penn State forward
The Most Outstanding Player of last year's NIT showed his quality in the second half, taking control of the offensive end to score 21 of his 25 points after the break.
2. Sincere Carry
The freshman was able to get to the rim at will, finishing with 15 points, six assists, six rebounds and six steals, despite leaving the game briefly in the first half after taking a blow to the head.
3. Eric Williams Jr.
Returning to the starting lineup after coming off the bench for disciplinary reasons, Williams led the Dukes with 21 points and seven rebounds.
After being pushed off the floor by Pitt in their last outing at PPG Paints Arena, the Dukes went toe-to-toe for all 40 minutes with the Nittany Lions, and it was their full-court press that gave Penn State fits.
Penn State turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, much to the bewilderment of coach Pat Chambers, whose team was coming off a loss to an N.C. State club that also presses frequently.
"They were man-to-man early, and then they went to a diamond press. We just played N.C. State, who do a lot of similar things, and that's why I was shocked we were throwing the ball all over the gym. And give Duquesne credit, they played really hard and they were in passing lanes," Chambers said. "I just told (our players) to look up the floor. They had four black jerseys in the backcourt, so we started looking up the floor, and that loosened things up for us."
Duquesne's second-half offense went stagnant, and if not for the ability of Carry, Williams and Hughes to get to the foul line — that trio accounted for 26 of the Dukes' 32 foul shots — the game could have been over midway through the second half.
The Dukes went 7 minutes, 26 seconds without a field goal in the second half, a stretch in which they went from a 45-42 lead to trailing 55-51. The source of the struggles were mixed, as Duquesne both turned the ball over but also failed to convert open looks at the rim, beginning the half shooting 1-for-13.
"Offensively, we killed ourselves. We just didn't score," Dambrot said. "Maybe we're just not very good offensively, at times. We really don't have that great of an identity."
The wild finish never could have happened if the Dukes didn't get on track in the second half, and credit Tavian Dunn-Martin for sparking his team to life — in addition to being one of the main players helping to restrain his coach at the end.
Dunn-Martin ended the Dukes' long field goal drought with a great individual play, as he picked the pocket of Bolton just after he crossed the midcourt stripe. The diminutive Dukes' guard went straight at the rim and drew contact from Bolton, flipping the ball over the rim and in for a three-point play that cut the lead to 55-54 and got the home crowd reenergized.
There's no way around it, the technical fouls against Dambrot decided the outcome of the game. The argument can be made each way — Dambrot was out of line, or referee Brian Dorsey had a quick trigger with the technical in an understandably tense moment — but the call was the story.
THE OTHER SIDE
Chambers also was asked about how the game ended, and naturally, he took a measured approach toward the answer.
"It's unfortunate. I didn't see the last play — obviously, I saw it live — but I didn't see what he was very upset about," Chambers said. "There was still five seconds to go, but it's unfortunate. Keith's a really good coach, and obviously, he saw something that he didn't like."
The Dukes return to Palumbo Center for their next home game at 2 p.m. Saturday against Eastern Kentucky (6-5). It is the Dukes' last game before Christmas and their penultimate non-conference game. Penn State, meanwhile, has a short turnaround to head south for a major-conference battle against Alabama (7-3) at 9 p.m. Friday.
Visit our Duquesne team page for all our Dukes coverage.
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