OMAHA, Neb. — Sixth-seeded BYU won’t only be fighting against a talented Duquesne team that won the Atlantic-10 tournament on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The Cougars will have to overcome an emotional advantage that might be leaning the Dukes’ way.

“Kind of ironic that Creighton is in Pittsburgh and we’re in Omaha. Two small Catholic schools. Hopefully our fans will get behind them and your fans will get behind us.”

—  Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot

After leading Duquesne to its first Big Dance appearance since 1977, Dukes coach Keith Dambrot announced Monday that this season, his seventh in charge of the program from Pittsburgh, will be his last. Dambrot is most known for being LeBron James’ former high school coach.

Wednesday, when Dambrot and three players met with reporters ahead of Thursday’s 10:40 a.m. MDT showdown with the Big 12′s Cougars, the coach’s retirement, and how it will motivate the underdogs, was a recurring theme.

“It has been kind of a whirlwind of emotions the last couple of days. But again, I think it works for us in a positive way because it just bonds us closer together, increases our brotherhood,” said Duquesne guard Jake DiMichelle. “I think it kind of gives us another incentive to win this game because we want to send him out in the right way. He’s never won an NCAA Division I tournament game. So we want to get that for him.”

Tipoff is at 10:40 a.m. MDT and the matchup will be televised by TruTV.

BYU guard Spencer Johnson said he hadn’t heard that Dambrot was retiring, then noted, “So I guess that could be motivating.”

Johnson said BYU’s motivation comes from making sure that all the work the Cougars put into the season, from the time last season ended with a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC semifinals to now, doesn’t go for naught.

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“Now we are here, and it is time to really show out,” Johnson said.

Dambrot said he thought about making the announcement earlier in the season, like after the Dukes played Davidson, but didn’t and then his athletic director, Dave Harper, urged him to do it Monday.

“But this isn’t about me,” Dambrot said. “It is about a bunch of guys that withstood an 0-5 start in the league, showed enough resilience to power their way back. That’s what it is about.”

Dambrot then made a plea to Omaha basketball fans, who mostly support Creighton.

“Kind of ironic that Creighton is in Pittsburgh and we’re in Omaha,” he said. “Two small Catholic schools. Hopefully our fans will get behind them and your fans will get behind us.”

Dambrot on Wednesday also mentioned BYU’s players’ ages. That’s nothing new. But the descriptions are usually reserved for BYU’s football players. A lot of BYU’s athletes are older than their counterparts because they serve two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Obviously an older team,” Dambrot said. “I think their average age is 22.7, or something like that.”

Dambrot said the team in the A-10 that BYU most reminds him of is VCU, the team coached by former Utah State coach Ryan Odom that the Dukes beat 57-51 in the A-10 championship game.

“Very similar (styles), 3-point oriented, very fluid,” Dambrot said. “Challenging because they can stretch you out, but they can also score inside with the big guy (Fouss Traore). The other big guy (Aly Khalifa) is a pick-and-pop guy, which puts pressure on you as well. Solid, point guard (Dallin Hall), big and strong.”

Cougars on the air

No. 6 seed BYU (23-10)

vs. No. 11 seed Duquesne (24-11)

  • Thursday, 10:40 a.m. MDT
  • CHI Health Center Arena, Omaha
  • TV: TruTV
  • Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Dambrot said everybody talks about BYU’s offense — the Cougars average 81.8 points per game — but he believes they are one of the best defensive teams in the country as well. BYU gives up 69.9 points per game, about three points more per game than Duquesne.

“You can tell that coach Pope has been around coach (Rick) Pitino, because they play like an Eastern-type team. Tough, hard-nosed basketball team. So it is going to be a challenge, but very similar to some of the teams we have played throughout the year, like a Richmond, who uses a lot of that dribble handoff-type thing.

So we have seen a lot of what they have done. It is just a matter now of making sure that we are the tougher team in the game,” Dambrot continued. “I think that is probably an underrated thing with Brigham Young, is they are tough and hard-nosed. They will throw forearms into your chest and test your toughness. I think that is something that people don’t talk about lot about with them.”

Interestingly, Dambrot’s father played for the Duquesne team that beat BYU 69-47 in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Dec. 28, 1953.

Duquesne 's Kareem Rozier, front right, congratulates coach Keith Dambrot, left, after defeating Virginia Commonwealth in the championship of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament Sunday, March 17, 2024, in New York.
Duquesne 's Kareem Rozier, front right, congratulates coach Keith Dambrot, left, after defeating Virginia Commonwealth in the championship of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament Sunday, March 17, 2024, in New York. | Peter K. Afriyie, Associated Press