PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot has quickly transformed the Dukes into a surprise A-10 contender, but following Wednesday night’s overtime loss to Richmond, he reminded everyone the climb to out of the conference cellar wouldn’t happen without speed bumps.
“This is not going to be a trajectory that goes straight up,” Dambrot said. “Life doesn’t really work that way, right? You’ve got to get hit in the mouth when you’re trying to build championship behaviors.”
Duquesne can expect to take a punch or two Saturday against No. 24 Rhode Island when the teams meet at noon on NBC Sports Network. It will be the Dukes’ toughest test to date and maybe all season.
The A-10 leaders have won 11 straight overall and boast one of the top backcourts in the country led by Jared Terrell, E.C. Matthews and Stanford Robison. Their 8-0 record to open conference play is the best start in program history.
The Rams lead the league in scoring at 77 points game and have yet to trail at halftime in conference play. Duquesne must avoid the slow starts that plagued it against Saint Louis and Richmond—games where they trailed by double-digits in the first half.
If the Dukes are going to pull off the upset, they’re going to have to drag Rhode Island into a knockdown, grind-it-out slugfest.
“We need to slow the tempo,” Dambrot said. “It can’t be a high-scoring game or we’re not winning.”
Duquesne is 11-1 when holding opponents to under 70 points and 3-6 in all other games. Keeping the Rams under the 70-point plateau will not be an easy chore. They shoot 46 percent from the floor and nearly 73 from the charity stripe. Terrell’s 18 points per game average is the sixth-best mark among all A-10 players. Their numbers are even better at home, where they’re a perfect 11-0. Duquesne, on the other hand, is just 1-2 away from the Palumbo Center.
While Dambrot is not acquainted with Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley, he is familiar with Hurley’s brother, Bobby, the current head coach at Arizona State.
“He coaches a lot like his brother Bobby, who I’ve played against a bunch,” Dambrot said. “Aggressive, hardnosed, probably a little more physical than the rest of the league, good individual talent, a lot of one-on-one defense.”
In addition to battling Rhode Island, Duquesne will also be fighting fatigue. Despite the players downplaying the notion of tired legs after the Richmond game, it was noticeably visible throughout the contest that they lacked the extra gear fans were accustomed to seeing even as recent as two weeks ago. Three straight home overtime games and a trip to Saint Louis will do that to a body.
Thursday’s practice was a light workout, and Dambrot has been scaling back the intensity during practices to keep his team fresh for the final month of the season.
“I’ve cut way back because I’ve felt it in practice,” Dambrot said of combating fatigue. “Sometimes less is more…we’ve got to make sure we’re emotionally ready to go. It’s not going to be easy.”
The 59-year old coach has been extraordinary at mentally preparing the Dukes all season. He’ll have to do it again Saturday with the Rhode Island clearly favored.
“We’ll have to get them emotionally ready,” Dambrot said. “I’m sure they’re going to have a little doubt going in. We’ve only played three road games, playing against the best team in the league and everybody knows it, so we’ve got to get them excited but not too excited.”