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Duquesne Secures NCAA Tournament Spot for the First Time in Nearly Half a Century

In a moment filled with joy and celebration, the Duquesne team, along with their cheerleaders and staff, gathered for a memorable photo. This was after they triumphed over VCU with a score of 57-51 on Sunday. Their victory in the Atlantic 10 Tournament secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament, a feat they hadn’t achieved in 47 years.

The scene at Barclays Center was one of sheer excitement as red, white, and blue streamers descended from above. The Dukes were ahead by 15 points in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They were on the brink of clinching their first NCAA Tournament bid in nearly half a century.

However, the game was far from over. There were still about 18 minutes left on the clock.

Key players like Jimmy Clark III, Dae Dae Grant, and their coach, Keith Dambrot, led Duquesne to victory. Despite fewer streamers, their postgame celebration was full of joy as they defeated the fifth-seeded VCU 57-51 on Sunday. This win earned them their long-awaited invitation to March Madness, their first since 1977.

The Dukes were later revealed as the No. 11 seed in the East Region during Sunday’s selection show. They are set to face BYU, the No. 6 seed, on Thursday in Omaha, Neb.

For the Dukes, who had a season record of 24-11 and began their conference season with a five-game losing streak, overcoming challenges is nothing new. “This isn’t a situation we haven’t been in before so we knew exactly what to do,” Clark mentioned. He played a crucial role, scoring nine points and securing the win with four free throws in the last 21 seconds.

Despite leading by 14 at halftime, securing the NCAA bid was a struggle. The Dukes managed only 21 points in the second half and had a shooting accuracy of 5 for 29 from the field. Nonetheless, they are heading into the tournament on an eight-game winning streak, a testament to their resilience.

Coach Dambrot emphasized their defensive strengths, acknowledging their offensive challenges throughout the year. At 65, Dambrot, who once coached LeBron James in high school, has led the Dukes to match a program record for victories set back in 1953-54. This was a time when Dambrot’s father, Sid, played for Duquesne.

LeBron James himself celebrated the team’s success on X, expressing his excitement for Duquesne’s achievement. The last time Duquesne clinched the A-10 and made it to the NCAA Tournament, they were led by future NBA All-Star Norm Nixon.

Dambrot, who joined Duquesne in 2017 after a successful stint with the University of Akron, knew the challenges ahead. Building a program with little tradition of success was not easy. “I knew it was going to be hard,” he said.

VCU, aiming to repeat as A-10 tournament champions, faced a tough game. Joe Bamisile, leading VCU with 20 points, described the championship battle as a tough, competitive game that didn’t always look pretty.

The game’s final moments were tense. After Clark’s crucial free throws, the Dukes managed to extend their lead, and despite a late push from VCU, Duquesne held on for the win. Grant, with 10 points, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

An early celebration with streamers falling onto the court added an unexpected twist to the game, causing a brief delay. This incident, however, did not deter the Dukes. They faced a scoring drought but managed to regain their momentum, thanks to their strong defense and timely scoring.

Dambrot, facing personal challenges with his wife’s health battle, found solace and joy in the team’s success. This season has been more than just basketball for him and the Dukes.

As they prepare for the NCAA Tournament, the Duquesne team carries with them not just the hope of their fans, but a story of resilience, determination, and the joy of overcoming long odds to make history.