PITTSBURGH — After Gavin Bizeau stepped out of bounds with 43 seconds remaining in regulation, Duquesne men’s basketball guard Tavian Dunn-Martin paused for a couple of moments beside the PPG Paints Arena wing to try and process what had just transpired.
His Duquesne team had allowed an 8-0 lead to slip away and in a game many fans from both programs proclaimed may be as evenly matched as it will be in some time, Pitt ran away with a 74-53 victory Friday night.
“We didn’t play a good offensive game in the first half and I didn’t think it could get any worse but we just didn’t play very good offensively,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said.
HIGHLIGHTS: Dukes Fall in City Game-bout with Pittsburgh, 74-53 pic.twitter.com/bTiD66i1Ky
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) December 1, 2018
Indeed Duquesne shot 33.3% from the field for the game and was 5-for-24 on its three point shots, making one in the second half.
What is more troubling were the 22 turnovers, which clearly represent a season-high and it was not one player but 10 of the 11 players who saw time in this game who each had at least one miscue. Brandon Wade was the lone player who did not turn the ball over.
“It was more uncharacteristic mistakes,” Duquesne forward Michael Hughes said. “We came out in first half aggressive, caught up and then we made silly mistakes.”
The turnovers were a noticeable issue in Duquesne’s last game, a win over UMass Lowell, given that there was not much pressure applied the mistakes were big factors.
In this game, Duquesne’s miscues were even more of a factor given how Pitt’s offense ran almost entirely off said turnovers and the Panthers enjoyed a 28-10 advantage in point off turnovers and 16-2 in fastbreak points.
“The pressure bothered us and then we got a little jittery,” said Dambrot. “We made some dumb unforced ones really, at some crucial times.”
Additionally, the foul difference ended up being five between the two teams but Pitt took 27 foul shots to Duquesne’s 13.
Sure, the referees missed at least a couple dozen travels on Pitt, but traveling has become to basketball what holding has been in football. It happens on seemingly every play but is often ignored.
While Duquesne’s sideline consistently was calling for traveling calls, it almost seemed as though those on the court did not finish those plays which led to fouls for being out of position or not closing out which created rebounds that the more physical Pitt team was able to grab.
Earlier in the week, Dambrot said that his team needed to beat Pitt to take that next step and being the casual fan to Duquesne and with 12,246, perhaps the biggest crowd his team will see this season, it was clear that the younger players may not have been ready for this stage and the Panthers did enough to pounce on that, especially in the last 10 minutes of this game.
Hughes the lone bright spot
It was clear that even in a shorter time frame, Pitt had done its homework scouting Duquesne, but still had a critical decision to make.
Under its coach Jeff Capel, Pitt has become more of a defensive-oriented team and a key decision certainly helped it win this game.
Capel saw how dangerous Michael Hughes has been in the post and even in the mid-range game, Pitt decided to prioritize double-teaming him.
There was a concern how Pitt would come out after a hard-fought loss to Iowa and those fears were confirmed when Duquesne scored the first eight points in this game.
Pitt did not call a timeout during this early run, but by the first media timeout had cut its deficit to 10-6 and that was when Capel called an audible.
Now, Pitt’s plan was to play Hughes straight up and let him score his points, but otherwise contain Duquesne.
This plan proved successful for a variety of reasons.
For starters, Marcus Weathers was out for Duquesne as he was ill. Weathers did play against UMass Lowell but after that game Dambrot informed reporters that his forward was not feeling well.
It was clear and is even more so after this game that Weathers is this team’s clear “four”, although Kellon Taylor’s return after football season will certainly provide more depth to that position. It was clear that Taylor’s physicality was also missed in this game.
With Weathers out, Duquesne started Austin Rotroff who has spent more time at the “five” position. Amari Kelly was in a similar situation and he fouled out midway through the second half. Dambrot admitted after the game that the plan was not for Gavin Bizeau to receive much if any minutes in this game.
“I could make excuses but he is a tough kid,” Dambrot said of Weathers. “We don’t have a lot of kids that play that four spot so we had to play kids that haven’t played there as much. That forced us to play small. It affected us but that is why you have 13 scholarship guys. This game came down to who was the tougher team and not having him hurt us in that regard.”
With Weathers out and Duquesne’s remaining post players all going through foul trouble, it validated Pitt’s decision to let Hughes score, which he did, to the tune of 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting while also grabbing 10 rebounds, good for his first career double-double, while everyone else largely struggled. Every other Duquesne player combined to shoot 21.7% from the field.
Duquesne’s next highest point total came from Eric Williams Jr who had nine points which came on 3-of-10 shooting from the field, but otherwise, the next two highest point totals were both aided by foul shots.
Pitt limited Duquesne on the perimeter and the result was countless empty possessions.
Duquesne went through several scoreless droughts, and often those ended in foul shots instead of made shots from the field.
Offensively it mostly appeared that Duquesne was lost and clearly there was a lot of frustration. A lot of that was because of Pitt and what it did on the defensive end, but Duquesne’s own decision-making certainly did not help things, which to an extent undid 30-35 minutes of good defense.
On Lewis II and Duquesne’s substitution patterns
Shortly before Eric Williams Jr picked up his second foul, Duquesne ran a set play in which Mike Lewis II was set to find the cutting guard, but the pass was instead well off the mark and out of bounds.
After the play the two had a brief dialogue in which they were trying to explain to the other where each was and it was clear that the game was slipping away.
Here in the City Game, perhaps the biggest stage of the season, Duquesne had its two returning players, the two who likely have or should have the most understanding of the team’s offensive sets, having a basic miscommunication.
It has been a tough six-game stretch for Lewis II who has maintained his starting role but has consistently played the least amount of minutes among the starting five and did so again Friday.
Lewis II certainly did not help going 1-for-2 from the field and having no assists to three turnovers in 17 minutes.
Dambrot has been on Lewis II as a defender and again there was a quick hook as he was initially subbed out at the first media timeout and sat out for 3:50 of game action.
It also was telling as the game slipped away that instead of going with Lewis II to try and provide instant offense, that Dambrot instead went with Brandon Wade, which is nothing against Wade but everything about how he came on the court instead of a starter.
The decision on its surface appears to be more of a baffling one since Dambrot expressed after the UIC game that he switched defenses out of desperation and the Duquesne offense was in desperate need of a lift with a lid seemingly being on the basket. Perhaps there was a concern about the defensive end and not letting up on the progress that had been made there, but it was clear that Duquesne needed quick offense, something Lewis II could provide.
This decision sends a tough message to Lewis II, who may have had his hardest-working offseason and embraces being a leader on this Duquesne team.
Coming into the season, Lewis II has been his healthiest as a Duquesne Duke and also cited how much motivation he was feeling from a lack of respect both for him and this team.
Prior to the game, Capel mentioned he did not remember Lewis II when recruiting Jayson Tatum, despite the two playing for the same high school.
This would have been easy momentum for Lewis II and perhaps could have been the boost he was looking for, but instead Friday’s game was much of what Duquesne fans have seen this season.
Even when Lewis II came in towards the end of the game and the outcome clearly decided, there was enough separation for the guard to take a three but he instead hesitated. In his previous two years, Lewis II would not have hesitated.
When Lewis II made his lone basket, a floater, there was 1:21 remaining in regulation.
There certainly is a question where Lewis II’s confidence is at and would be easy to understand when there has been a lack of minutes going his way and more playing time given to the freshmen.
Dambrot is in a really tough spot, which really is self-inflicted as he has aggressively recruited and now is trying to develop his young players while keeping his returning players happy. You certainly do not want to lose anyone on the team either mentally or down the line to transfer.
There always was the option to redshirt some of these freshmen, and Dylan Swingle has yet to play, which seems to a sign that he may be sitting out this season, but coming into this season multiple sources told Pittsburgh Sports Now that there were discussions to redshirt at least one or two more of the freshmen.
With all of that under consideration, it is impossible to get quality practice time with teammates switching off to run sets in different combinations.
After the opening game, Dambrot expressed that he was unsure what kind of team he has and after this game, it still appears to be a mystery, which is a concern. One game, is a small sample size, but now nearly halfway through the non-conference schedule, there is much more reason for concern.
Duquesne could be several different kind of teams, but none of them have truly stuck out yet and Atlantic 10 play begins Jan. 7.
The Atlantic 10 appears to be down as a conference and quite possibly a one-bid league to the NCAA Tournament, so the opportunity is still there to succeed, not to mention there still are seven non-conference games remaining.
There still are plenty of question marks with this Duquesne team and Wednesday against Marshall is the first step in providing answers.
Regardless of the Marshall game, the schedule does ease up after that contest with Duquesne hosting Longwood, Maryland Eastern Shore and Maine, all of whom are teams that are ranked over 300 in KenPom’s latest ratings.
Still, this young Duquesne team is very much a work in progress, and Friday night was a harsh reminder of that.