PITTSBURGH — You’d have to look back 21 years in order to find a Duquesne comeback of similar magnitude to the thriller the Dukes put on display against Longwood Sunday at the A.J. Palumbo Center – Dec. 6, 1997, to be exact, when the Dukes erased a 19-point deficit to defeat Radford.
On Sunday, Dukes trailed Longwood by as much as 18 points in the first half, faced a 15-point halftime deficit, didn’t lead until the 5:09 mark in the second half and even weathered a back-and-forth affair down the stretch before ultimately prevailing over the Lancers in a game they didn’t necessarily deserve to win, but still did anyway.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Dambrot said. “I’ll give them credit for the fighting. Because we fought back, cut it back, and then they went ahead again and most guys would have quit at that point, but we didn’t. So I give them I thought defensively, we played really good in the second half, not so good in the first half but [Longwood] played well. That guy’s a good coach. They’re very, very good defensively.”
Duquesne’s comeback bid was captivating in every sense of the word, albeit the reasoning behind it didn’t appear to derive from a fiery Dambrot halftime speech or a team-wide locker room Kumbaya moment. In fact, it wasn’t that dramatic at all. A few subtle adjustments paved way for defensive stops. And, in turn, the train started rolling as the Dukes went on an 18-1 run to claw their way back.
“We switched on every ball screen in the second half,” said Dambrot after the game.
It helped. In the first half, Longwood shot 61.3 percent from the field with solid dribble-drive penetration – netting 8 of its 13 3-point field goal attempts on open looks off kick-out passes. But when Dambrot went with a sizable lineup to begin the second half (Eric Williams, Frankie Hughes, Sincere Carry, Austin Rotroff, Amari Kelly), the Dukes started switching on screens and clogging passing lanes, and the Lancers’ offensive efficiency plummeted. In the second half, they shot 30 percent (7-23) from the field, 4-11 from beyond the arc and committed 14 of their 21 turnovers.
“Playing defense, getting stops and just getting baskets gave us energy,” said Tavian Dunn-Martin said. “For them not making as much as they did in the first half, I think we did a pretty good job of stopping them, so that gives us a lot of energy. Bringing the pressure is really key for us.”
EARNING AN OPPORTUNITY
Freshman Lamar Norman Jr. has kept his head down and done everything the Duquesne coaching staff has asked of him this – even if it meant coming off the bench in a reserve role.
And now it’s beginning to pay off. Norman was thrust into the starting lineup Sunday for the first time in his short career and made the most of it. He finished with a career-high 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting and was critical in the backcourt alongside Dunn-Martin down the stretch.
“The bottom line is he deserves to play,” said Dambrot. “I like him as a person. He’s a high-level kid. He hasn’t complained at all about his spotty minutes. He wants to play more. …but he’s handled it like a professional. And then on top of it, I think he’s talented as heck. I think he’s one of the best athletes on our team. He’s explosive. He’s got a calm personality which allows him to make shots and he’s a scoring maniac.”
‘MY JOB IS TO WIN GAMES’
Norman took a majority of Mike Lewis II’s floor time, who registered just nine minutes of action and missed all four of his first-half shot attempts. In addition to Lewis, Marcus Weathers did not receive his typical amount of usage on Sunday, either. He ended with four points in six minutes of action. Why?
In Dambrot’s view, he went with what was working.
“That’s the hard part about our team,” he said. “I didn’t think Marcus played great so I went away from him. I don’t really like that, and same with Mike Lewis, but I felt the other guys could help us win better this particular night. It’s not a reflection on how good I think either one of them are, but my job is to win games.
“I can’t worry about feelings which sound kind of mean. I feel bad afterward because those guys are mainstays of our team. But ultimately, I have to win games.”
Michael Hughes did not play against Longwood four days after posting a 20-point performance in Duquesne’s win over Marshall. The sophomore center is nursing a right knee contusion and will undergo an MRI on Monday for further evaluation.
Austin Rotroff earned the start in his place and ended with six points and four rebounds. Amari Kelly chipped in five points, two rebounds, and two assists.
The Dukes look next to a home contest against Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 13.