PITTSBURGH — Coming into Sunday afternoon’s Duquesne men’s basketball game, coach Keith Dambrot made a determination which he knew may shape the outcome of this and future contests this season.
“I was playing those young big kids,” he said. “I don’t care what happens. If we take a hit or two along the way, I’m playing them, I don’t care. For the good of the program, down the line, those guys are going to be good players and we have to take our hit until they are ready to play really. That’s how I see it.”
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Duquesne was able to rebound from its loss against Notre Dame and defeat UMass Lowell 83-71 and improve to 4-1 on the season.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) November 25, 2018
UMass Lowell is currently ranked 294th in KenPom and its defense came into Sunday’s contest conceding 81.3 points per game. Duquesne took advantage of that in the first half, scoring 46 points and leading by 13 points at halftime.
Even though there were lead changes in that first half, it never really felt that UMass Lowell was in the game that first half.
Duquesne shot at a 65.4% clip in the first half and Michael Hughes, Marcus Weathers and Eric Williams Jr all were perfect from the field.
Dambrot’s only true sticking point with that first half was that his Duquesne team should have been up 20 but kind of got into basketball trading mode.
Williams Jr has adventurous outing
Down 4-3 early in the first half, Marcus Weathers passed Eric Williams Jr the ball, with the latter firing a three-point shot.
In the past couple of games, Williams Jr was missing shots short and was 1-for-11 against Radford in Akron before making timely baskets down the stretch and never really was an offensive factor in terms of scoring against Notre Dame finishing 1-for-11 from the field.
With that in mind, Williams Jr’s three fell into the basket and it seemed to give him confidence as he went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in Sunday’s game.
Williams Jr did miss his first four free throws, but instead of bemoaning the ball not going in the basket, he got back on defense and created turnovers after both of those sequences.
It was clear that Williams Jr had defensive urgency during his 26 minutes Sunday, a figure which was intentionally lower than normal.
Williams Jr amassed four steals in the game, including a key theft when Duquesne’s lead was cut to eight points. His steal came with 2:45 remaining in regulation and UMass Lowell did not record a field goal after that possession.
“Last year, I just had mental lapses and this year I am trying to stay more engaged on defense,” he said.
Williams seemed to have a good afternoon, but was called for a technical foul with 6:08 remaining in the second half after Marcus Weathers was called for a foul. After the technical foul was called, Williams Jr clearly was upset and a teammate held him back.
“The referee told me what happened with Eric’s,” said Dambrot. “The referee said to be quiet and Eric said ‘that was a phantom foul’. I guess when they say be quiet, you should be quiet. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever heard said to a referee, but he has the power.”
As for how Williams told reporters about the technical foul?
“I said to my teammate the foul was called before it even happened and he teched me,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Second half slow down
As energetic as the first half was, the second half severely lacked flow.
For starters, Duquesne shot 39.4% from the field and the only three point shot made was from Frankie Hughes with 12:36 remaining in regulation, otherwise the Dukes missed their 11 other attempts from deep.
Duquesne also had 17 turnovers in this game, a season-high total, with 10 of those miscues coming in the second half.
It was clear that the turnovers struck a nerve with Dambrot, specifically how many of them were coming with little to no ball pressure. A lot of those were due to illegal screens the coach called “foolish”.
The big thing though were the fouls as the officials were much more active with their whistles.
While 16 total fouls were called in the first half, 28 were called including technical fouls to both Williams Jr and Amari Kelly who showed displeasure with a foul call.
Duquesne already had seven team fouls with Kelly’s foul and subsequent technical foul counting for two of them, six minutes into the half.
“I feel like the energy got taken out a little bit,” Michael Hughes said. “We got a couple of techs and there were a lot of free throws which takes away the energy. Other than that, the energy was there for the majority and to finish it out.”
When all of this gets put together, especially with Duquesne utilizing its depth, it left Dambrot confused as to why the second half seemed to be a letdown.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Dambrot. “I am not sure if we lost our juice and I can’t understand why when we played 12 guys, but it looked like we lost our juice.”
As Dambrot concluded his postgame press conference, his eyes gravitated towards a familiar face, his wife Donna.
“What are you doing in here,” the second-year Duquesne coach asked.
Dambrot explained that she had never before been to one of his press conferences and with several family members in the back, had an entertaining, one-sided conversation
“We better win the next game, or you’ll never be back,” Dambrot said? If we beat Pitt, then she’s allowed back in, if not then she’s sent back to Siberia.”
One issue Duquesne had in Gotham Classic play, was scoring with consistency in the paint. Duquesne was the taller team.
Still, the 40-26 advantage in the paint is an important step which can be built for Friday’s contest against Pitt.
“I think there were a lot of different mismatches they had,” Hughes said. “Not even myself but (Austin) Rotroff or Amari Kelly. No one really matched up to our bigs in some plays and some aspects.”
From an analytics perspective three Duquesne players had plus-minus ratings over 10, led by Tavian Dunn Martin’s +16, Amari Kelly (+11) and Eric Williams Jr (10), were the others… This game was the first of nine straight to be played in Pittsburgh. Duquesne will not play another true road game until its Atlantic 10 Conference opener Jan. 5 at Davidson… Duquesne is now ranked 152nd on KenPom’s College Basketball Rankings.
He said it
“I think Marcus is trying too hard. I think he has been just fair, not up to where he can play. It’s all mental. He is trying too hard. I probably don’t help because I am on him constantly. I am not great at massaging people when they are struggling, which I am trying to get better at.” – Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot on Marcus Weathers