AKRON, OHIO — Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot’s biggest test Saturday may not have been Radford, but just keeping his emotions in check.
It is clear how much Akron meant to Dambrot, as after the Dukes’ big non-conference win, he was introducing various friends from along the way.
Duquesne basketball on Pittsburgh Sports Now is sponsored by The Summit Academy: setting young men on the path to a better future.
Pregame, his coaching staff were shaking hands and hugging various attendees during pregame warmups. As starting lineups were read, Dambrot struggled to avoid crying in front of his team, something he certainly did not want to do.
“I don’t know if I am getting old or sentimental, but I have a lot of great memories,” he said. “I had a hard time controlling myself. Even when I went to the I Promise school I had a hard time controlling myself.”
Following the game, the players briefly had their cooling off period and then the entire team came back to The LeBron James Arena court and interacted with friends, family and fans. Instead of the mass exodus which happens after a Duquesne game at Palumbo Center, many opted to stay and socialize.
It was clear to Dambrot’s team how much this game meant to him and the 69-64 defensive-oriented victory almost seemed a fitting tribute to a coach who in his second year, has pushed to bring the very best out of his team.
“It was a different kind of trip,” Duquesne sophomore guard Eric Williams Jr said. “Coach D has a lot of respect out here, so it is just an honor to be with him.”
Prior to leaving his on-court postgame media interview, he put a bow on the experience, one which included a visit to LeBron James’s I Promise School and him holding court with seemingly the entire 1,020 in attendance Saturday.
“I don’t have a lot of family in Akron, but I have a lot of family in Akron,” said Dambrot.
HUGHES TRENDING UP
In the team’s preseason scrimmages against Canisius and Saint Francis, Frankie Hughes could not buy a basket, and that was not a phrase used for effect. He literally did not make a basket.
Though a small sample size, Duquesne has received key contributions from various players. In the season opener against William and Mary, Austin Rotroff’s heroics made him Atlantic 10 freshman of the week. In the UIC game, Lamar Norman went from no time on the court to being a needed spark plug. Saturday, it was Frankie Hughes’s turn.
In 24 minutes, Hughes amassed 10 points and made all four of his free throws while also playing inspired defense.
“Coach Dambrot believed in me from the beginning of the game and it boosted my confidence tremendously,” he said. “Having that belief from the coaching staff and teammates and having me guard arguably the best player on their team towards the end of the game is a big confidence boost.”
Among the transfers who sat out last season, Hughes may have come the most regarded, but likely had the longest journey as well.
None of that fazed Hughes.
“You just have to stay with it every day and Coach Dambrot tells me every day that he needs me,” said Hughes. “I believe it. My teammates keep me up. They know my background, they know where I came from. I knew coming in it wouldn’t be easy or handed to me. This is college basketball, nothing is supposed to be handed to you. I just try to stick with it, keep my head high and compete.”
Hughes also contributed two assists in the game, both of which were to open three-point shots. Predictably, Dambrot was a big fan of the defensive effort and as he did the two games prior, rode the hot hand as Hughes received his largest minutes count of the season.
“Frankie had a really good game, not even scoring-wise, defensively he was very good,” Dambrot said. “He’s a talented guy who has had a rough time of it for the most part. He’s hung in there. This is a hard team for me because I don’t know who to play all of the time, so you just have to deal with it and be thankful to get minutes when you get them. Some nights it might not seem fair to you. That’s kind of what Frank did today.”
Hughes is from Cleveland, so this was a home game for him, as well, with family and friends each making the trip. He was willing to state that their presence in addition to the team’s support gave him an extra energy boost.
“Having my friends in the stands was a good feeling, being around things that you are used to and people you are used to,” he said. “I played AAU with (Radford guard) Carlik Jones, so I’m really close to him so playing him was special.”
JUST KEEP SHOOTING
Eric Williams Jr was 1 for his first 11 from the field and the easy thing to do would have been to be passive, deferring to teammates.
The sophomore has taken on more of a leadership role and opted to lead by example. The result was his second consecutive double-double.
“I think I missed a lot at the front of the rim so I wasn’t really mad, it was just keep shooting,” he said. “I just adjusted on my shots and didn’t do too many double pumps.”
Dambrot subbed Williams Jr out to rest him, but he still played 32 minutes. which was a Duquesne high. It was clear that the second-year Duquesne coach trusted his player and the results towards the end which included some trips to the free-throw line certainly paid off.
“I was proud of him because I thought he rallied back from adversity and made three big shots that really mattered. He’s a good player, he should make those shots,” said Dambrot. “I am glad he kept his head in the game.”
Duquesne led for much of the first half, but gave up the advantage, trailing by two points after 20 minutes of play.
“We had the game in decent command then we kind of lost our way the last four minutes of the half,” Dambrot said. “We just can’t overreact. I have to be as normal as I can be through good and bad, which for me is not easy. We are playing a lot of young guys, it doesn’t do any good to rattle them more than they are already rattled.”
A big reason for Radford’s success was redshirt sophomore guard Carlik Jones, who scored 11 points at the half.
Jones did not play in Radford’s win over Notre Dame due to a one-game suspension, but the two-pronged attack of him and Ed Polite Jr, had success against Duquesne.
“We just wanted to keep him in front a little harder on our ball screen,” Dambrot said of the adjustments made at halftime. “They are more creative and there are more opportunities. The point guard is creative but the other two aren’t as creative as Carlik.”
Radford started the game with a physical post advantage and doubled Duquesne’s first half points in the paint total, but seemed to go away from that, some of which was due to Jones and what he brought to the court.
After a rather stagnant start to the second half from both teams, the lead began to change hands back-and-forth before Duquesne settled in.
A big reason for that was Jones being held to three points and also, Radford guard Caleb Tanner who made long three-point shots against Notre Dame made one early on in the second half, but was otherwise quiet.
“Down the stretch, we fixed things and got tighter,” said Williams Jr. “It shows we didn’t give anything. Our coach had us prepared for this game and that’s what led us to this victory.”
Mike Lewis II led all scorers with 15 points, 12 of which came in the first half, and played 23 minutes. In the last Inside the Dukes piece, Lewis II’s role was briefly examined and it is clear with a performance such as Saturday’s, that despite a diminished workload in terms of minutes, that the junior guard remains a team player and works to make the most of his time on the court.
“It’s an adjustment for him, he’s used to playing 30-some minutes a game and he’s not getting that now,” Dambrot said. “Coaches are in search and discover mode but he is a great kid with a great attitude. He deserves that (performance).”
Marcus Weathers drew three charges in this game and though the third of which appeared more flop than charge, in a rather stagnant second half for Duquesne at that point in the game, it provided a boost which allowed his teammates to feed off that energy… Dambrot stated after the game that Sincere Carry had a bit of a shoulder injury. Carry had three points in the game and had five assists to go with six turnovers.
HE SAID IT
“We’re in a unique situation because generally we have an old team, so you try to win any game you can. We have a young team so we have to win and develop at the same time. I didn’t get (Gavin) Bizeau in the game. I want to, he’s a good player and I didn’t get Amari (Kelly) and Lamar (Norman Jr.) in as much as I wanted to. It’s a hard deal, it really is and it’s not totally fair to the guys on the team, either because they don’t know when they are coming in and when they are coming out. It’s hard to play like that. This is what we have to do right now.” – Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot