PITTSBURGH — As the calendar once again changes years, conference play is upon us and at 9-4, Duquesne will have to turn the page and prepare to face Atlantic 10 opponents.
“I think we played exactly how the makeup of our team is,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said. “We’ve played consistently inconsistent because we are mostly freshmen and sophomores. We played good enough to win most of the time but we have to get a lot better on details in order to be successful in the A-10 season.”
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Throughout the opening 13 contests, Dambrot has been quick to offer things to work on and after the team’s open practice Thursday, it was much of the same.
“Just have to be more mature as people,” said Dambrot. “If our mental maturity improves and we don’t worry about the last play, how many minutes I play and how many shots I take, we’ll play better.”
Duquesne will open conference play Saturday at Davidson, just its second true road game of the season and redshirt sophomore forward Marcus Weathers believes, the best is yet to come for his team.
“It is a weird dynamic because everyone, everybody is still trying to figure it out,” Weathers said. “We’re starting to figure it out. I think we’re playing at 50% of the level that we can play at. If we can reach 100% we will be a very scary team to play.”
Nov. 10 vs. William & Mary
This was an interesting first game just because no one knew what to expect. UIC in fact watched the game because there was no scout on an almost entirely new Duquesne team.
Dambrot himself was quite honest in stating similar remarks and was concerned because William & Mary runs a similar style as the Richmond team which gave Duquesne fits a season ago.
The effort was one of Duquesne’s best this season and it seemed for the first time in four decades, fans were excited to start basketball because there could be expectations.
Nov. 12 vs. UIC
This was perhaps the most important game of the season to date for Duquesne’s coaching staff as Dambrot went to his “desperation defense”.
UIC practiced at a high intensity an hour after the William & Mary game ended, now having a quick scout formulated based on what it had just witnessed.
Duquesne’s pressure got to UIC and forced overtime which the home team ultimately won. In just his second career game, Sincere Carry had 32 points and eight assists compared to one turnover.
In terms of biggest wins of the season, this one is definitely up there.
Nov. 17 vs. Radford
The victory in this game was a big one for much of the non-conference slate, but Radford has been inconsistent of late. Still, if Radford wins conference play, its victories over Notre Dame and Texas could help Duquesne if a potential postseason berth arises.
Perhaps the brightest light was that Duquesne overcame some shooting struggles with timely stops on defense. Eric Williams Jr opened 1-for-11 from the field. Williams would make timely shots at the end of the game and Duquesne just was more together as a team.
Given this game was played in Akron, Duquesne clearly wanted to win this for Dambrot and his staff, all of whom of course have a place in their hearts for the city.
A 3-0 start to the Gotham Classic was a very encouraging sign, especially when Duquesne probably would have lost all three of these games last season.
Nov. 20 @ Notre Dame
Notre Dame has been hit by the injury bug a bit since this game but Duquesne simply put just did not shoot the basketball well.
Duquesne may have played its longest stretch of stingy defense, which needs to be a positive in Atlantic 10 play when the Dukes will be forced on the road.
The dry spell Duquesne hit on offense was surely disappointing and probably because it felt as though the better team did not win. A case certainly could be made for that, though this game’s competitive nature is not reflected on the final score.
Dambrot never believes in moral victories but there certainly had to be a nod of approval for the fight and that he is pressing the right buttons.
Nov. 25 vs. UMass Lowell
This was the perfect game at the right time. No it was still not a complete 40 minute effort and the let up again occurred right before halftime, but Duquesne needed a win going into the City Game and it had to be a convincing one, which to an extent it was.
The most notable thing from this game was Dambrot decided to give his younger players all some playing time and accept any hit that came with it.
Despite this depth there still was a general disappointment that Duquesne appeared to still be tired.
Nov. 30 vs. Pitt
With a large crowd watching from PPG Paints Arena, Duquesne laid an absolute egg.
This was the game where outsiders believed served as Duquesne’s last chance to get a win for a while due to recruiting and Pitt coach Jeff Capel becoming acclimated to the team.
Duquesne had way too many unforced errors and it was not just a scoreless streak but there was just a lack of discipline in decision making which certainly did not help an already thin margin of error.
Michael Hughes was the lone bright spot, shooting at a high percentage and earning Capel’s praise following the game.
Dec. 5 vs. Marshall
Carry’s defense on Marshall leading scorer Jon Elmore played a large role in this 11-point victory and he also recorded 19 points, seven assists and zero turnovers.
Dambrot’s familiarity with Marshall served his team well and it was ready for the fast-paced offense. Duquesne shot 57.9% from the field in a game it was forced to score.
Dec. 9 vs. Longwood
This was the least challenging portion of Duquesne’s schedule but Michael Hughes’s injury put a wrinkle into that.
Duquesne struggled and trailed by as many as 18 points, but this win proved that the Dukes played until the very end and achieved the desired outcome.
There seemed to be a sense of panic last season when trailing at halftime as evidenced by one win in such fashion but this was the most notable of the four comeback wins this season.
Dec. 13 vs. Maryland Eastern Shore
This game was an easy one, essentially players filled the floor but really it resembled more of a sleepwalking effort.
Duquesne knew it was the better team but Eastern Shore took an early lead after both started slowly.
Lamar Norman Jr was able to string consecutive strong games together and cited a need to play harder as what helped him.
This was a classic exam week game where Duquesne just was the more talented team but really there is not much else to say about this one.
Dec. 16 vs. Maine
Duquesne was physically the more dominant team and Maine just did not appear developed which showed by the visitors hunching over on free throws. Maine’s coaches also did not do much standing rather sitting which Duquesne saw and continued to push.
This was another game where there is not much to take away as this really should have been a convincing game.
Dec. 19 vs. Penn State
We never will know how this game ended but it appeared Duquesne had the momentum had the game ended as it did.
Dambrot stood up for his team after the game and he was not punished by neither the conference nor Duquesne itself, though there was no statement made regarding the official’s conduct during the closing seconds.
Both Carry and Michael Hughes played big rolls, even though the former took a finger to the eye.
Duquesne had a long lull again offensively but did some good things defensively and did lead at halftime. Still the loss did sting because of what could have been.
Dec. 22 vs. Eastern Kentucky
After the finish to that Penn State game, it was always going to be interesting how Duquesne responded and the start was on the slower side and again a halftime comeback was in the cards.
Dambrot realized Duquesne needed more of its ballhandling guards against EKU’s pressure and the decision paid off.
It took overtime to pull off this win but this and Williams played 44 of the 45 total minutes and started cramping in the game’s closing minutes.
Dambrot trusted Williams with the ball and he drained what ended up being the game-winning basket.
Dec. 31 vs. NJIT
This was probably the worst loss Duquesne had in non-conference play.
Duquesne was incredibly inconsistent in this game and both teams were chirping at each other with NJIT standing tall.
This was a game Duquesne was expected to win but got in its own way.
Following the game there was a longer wait for the postgame press conference and it was clear the loss left a collective bad taste in Duquesne’s mouth.
It seems as if the home heavy schedule did not help this team as much as last year. The progression of play is not as present but it should be considered a good thing that Duquesne is not playing its best basketball right now.
Last year, Duquesne was playing its best basketball but after Dayton, there seemed to be some tiredness and maybe a lack of consistent confidence. This can be expected out of a team starting over with an older group that did not have too much mileage attached to it.
Dambrot does not expect his team to win the conference, but if Duquesne can manage the roller coaster that is Atlantic 10 play, then it may want to continue this season and see how it can fare in postseason play.
This is the most exciting Duquesne team since Ron Everhart coached the team because there is a genuine effort on both sides of the ball. Sure there are still many mistakes and some of those may be exposed in the next couple of months, but it is clear this Duquesne team wants to progress and do so as a unit.