By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON – The education of the Duquesne men’s basketball team continues.
But learning doesn’t make losing easier to take.
Saturday’s 61-58 loss to No. 24 Rhode Island could have easily as been a W instead of the buzzer-beating loss it turned out to be. The Dukes controlled the first half, lost control in the second then had to make a comeback of their own before the game-winning 3-point by URI’s Stanford Robinson sent the Ryan Center into a frenzy and the Dukes walking off with a loss that does more for its confidence than its place in the Atlantic 10 standings.
“I have such high expectations I can’t say more good than bad. I hate to lose. I’m not ever going to say that when we don’t win,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said. “That’s just not he way I’m built.”
“They’re a team that believes they’re supposed to win,” URI coach Danny Hurley said. “One of the few teams we’ll play all year that plays as hard as we do.”
Dambrot and the Dukes will take the compliments, but the win would have been nicer.
After a furious Rhode Island comeback that turned a 15-point Duquesne lead into a 6-point URI advantage with 2:47 left, the Dukes got a 3-pointer from Rene Castro-Caneddy (16 points) to cut it in half with 2:09 left, one of two free throws from Castro-Caneddy with 1:04 left and had the ball with 42 seconds left before Eric Williams (nine points, 10 rebounds) passed up what would have been a rushed 3-pointer and instead drove to the basket, unleashing a delicate floater that banked off the glass and through the hoop to tie the game with 28 seconds left.
URI held for the final shot with Castro-Caneddy covering Jeff Dowtin as he dribbled the clock down to the 10-second mark. Dowtin went right, cut back left and URI’s Jared Terrell tried to set a screen. Duquesne’s Chas Brown hedged, but Castro-Caneddy was a step slow getting back. Dowtin turned hard toward the basket and Williams stepped up to prevent a layup. Dowtin dished it left to Robinson and Williams raced to get a hand in Robinson’s face. The shot was a no-doubter the second it left his hand.
“I don’t think it was the worst defensive position. We clogged EC [Matthews, URI senior guard] to the basket, which is what we wanted to do,” said Duquesne’s Tarin Smith who scored four points and had six rebounds coming off the bench and was on the court for the final play. “We wanted Robinson taking the shot rather than EC or [Jared] Terrell, who got hot in the second half. When you look at it in hindsight it wasn’t the worst case-scenario for us, but you have to live with it. I don’t think he made a three all game.”
“We got beat at the point of attack,” Dambrot said. “When you get beat at the point of attack that forced our guy to come off the corner and help. He had no choice. Usually we don’t same-side help but he had no choice because that was a layup if he didn’t and it cost us.”
Early on, it didn’t seem like the game would come down that.
The Rams play an aggressive, almost frantic brand on basketball. They attack, attack, attack and let their defense dictate the offense, turning the pace of a game into a track meet.
That wasn’t a recipe for success for the Dukes, so they turned the first half into the game they wanted to play. They silenced the sold-out Ryan Center with ball movement and execution, taking shots when they presented themselves and making passes that mattered. While the Dukes are still learning, they were the ones dishing out the education in the first half, turning their 11-9 lead into a 26-13 edge after a Kellon Taylor layup with 7:18 left in the half.
“We wanted it slow,” Dambrot said. “We wanted it to be a teeth-pulling contest where they don’t get any possessions, they don’t get any run outs they don’t get the crowd in the game where it’s 5-4 at the end of the first horn at the end of the 16-minute mark, 12-8 at the second.
“We got it right where we needed to and we knew – you’re not 24th in the country for nothing. They’re going to come at us and they know we’re a little green and they’re at home so they’re going to bully us.”
“They’re one of the most methodical teams in terms of length of possession,” Hurley said. “Before they get to their scoring action there are a lot of things happening. They wanted to grind out this game.”
Duquesne started the second half on a 9-0 run, leading 38-23 after Chas Brown made one of two from the line with 16:14 left. Things were good.
That’s about when the No. 24 team in the country showed up to play, ramping up the defensive pressure by attacking in the front court, the back court and every court in between.
As the Dukes’ lead disappeared, getting to 40-32 with 14:00 left, it wasn’t hard to see what was going wrong on Duquesne’s side. This is a program that was an A-10 afterthought last season but this year’s team has become a lot more and becoming a contender means finding a way to fight through the panic of a double-digit road lead slipping through your hands.
“It’s hard to simulate in practice. I thought we got a little tired. We made mistakes when we were tired, even at the end of the first half we made a couple,” Dambrot said. “We’re probably a guy short from really being able to do what we really want to do but overall our guys are competitive.”
Duquesne stayed competitive but the Rams finally tied things at 45 with 6:49 left. Brown gave the Dukes the lead back on their next possession, but URI had an answer. Brown scored again to make it 49-47 with 5:37 left and URI tied it with an EC Matthews layup 16 seconds later.
“Even when they were making their run,” Smith said, “we were still confident we were going to win the game.”
Confidence is good and it was and will be needed. Even amidst the blood-letting, Duquesne showed some fight by not wilting over and letting URI run away with the final three minutes. Does it hurt to lose on a buzzer beater? Yes.
But that’s the pain Duquesne will need to remember if it gets in a similar type of game for the remainder of the A-10 schedule, the Atlantic 10 Tournament in D.C., or whatever games come after that.
“You have to get used to these games that matter,” Smith said. “We have a responsibility now; we’re a good team. We’re a competitive team and we believe we’re one of the better teams so every game we have to go out and fight and prove that.”
“Life is full of punches in the mouth. You have to keep battling, keep working and know you belong,” Dambrot said. “They didn’t know they belonged until this season so now they know they belong. They were a 10-22 team and now they know they belong with anybody in the league.”