PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne returns to action Saturday night for the first time in a week when it travels to St. Joseph’s for an Atlantic 10 matchup.
The Dukes will look to put last weekend’s disappointing loss to Fordham in the rearview mirror, while the Hawks are searching for their third straight victory.
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With only five games remaining on the schedule, the significance of each contest is more amplified. The Dukes are currently tied for fifth in the conference with St. Joseph’s and George Mason, and they’re just a game out of fourth place. A win would help on many levels, but most importantly, it would represent a confidence boost for a group that’s lost its way of late. Duquesne has lost five of six overall, yet remains in fairly good shape because of its 5-2 start to league play. There’s still time to right the ship and build momentum going into tournament play.
The Hawks were picked to finish third in the A-10, but a five-game losing streak to bookend January and February sent them tumbling down the standings. Seniors James Demery and Shavar Newkirk both score more than 17 points per game and combined for 39 points in St. Joseph’s 16-point win over Fordham on Wednesday.
Here’s the keys to Saturday’s game in Philadelphia:
GETTING BACK TO BASICS
When the Dukes are playing their best basketball, they’re defending and rebounding. They’ve been bad at both recently.
Duquesne is allowing more than 77 points per game in its last six contests and has been outrebounded in six of its last 10 matchups. During their three-game losing streak, they’ve given up more than 80 points each game and lost the rebounding war.
If the Dukes want to turn things around, they must play with the same intensity and purpose they played with to start conference play.
Head coach Keith Dambrot has fielded several questions about fatigue in recent weeks, but a six-day break should absolve any concerns heading into tonight’s matchup.
Dambrot admitted he was going to push the Dukes harder than he has in recent weeks, yet being idle this past week means the team had a chance to get its legs back. Against Fordham, the Dukes appeared to be a step slower and if anything, mentally exhausted. The first five minutes of the game will be telling regarding their energy level.
SHRUGGING OFF THE ROAD BLUES
Duquesne is just 2-4 on the road this season and has lost three of four overall away from the Palumbo Center. The theme in each loss has been the Dukes’ inability to slow opposing teams from going on big runs.
Duquesne was in a great position to steal a road win at Dayton, trailing by only three at the break, but the Flyers hit their first 10 shots of the second half and outscored the Dukes 20-8 over a five minute stretch to turn the game into a rout. It mirrored the second half collapses to VCU and Rhode Island, where they struggled to produce stops on a consistent basis.
Since holding Fordham to 41 points in victory back on Jan. 6, Duquesne is giving up nearly 75 points a game on the road. If the Dukes hope to come away with a victory against St. Joe’s, the game must be played in the 60’s. Of note, the Hawks are 8-2 at home this season.
Teams have consistently been extending pressure to disrupt the Duquesne guards, and Fordham’s strategy to faceguard and deny the Dukes’ backcourt completely bottled up the offense.
St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli is one of the best in the league and will probably attempt to do the same. Dambrot has had a week to prepare, so it will be interesting how the guards react should the Hawks employ a similar approach. Backdoor cuts and ball-screen slips will open the floor a bit more and give shooters like Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams Jr. bigger windows to get their shots off. Dambrot might also work the ball inside more, especially to Jordan Robinson, who has been playing well of late.
Coaching is a chess match, and it’s Dambrot’s turn to make a move.