DAVIDSON, N.C. — It was a necessary risk.
With Duquesne trailing by a pair of points with 22 seconds left, Sincere Carry had to try something.
So, he went for it, and tried to swipe the ball away from Davidson’s Kellan Grady. Had he been successful, it could’ve led to a fast break lay-up, tying the game.
“I hit the ball first and (Grady) created contact,” Carry said.
The referee thought otherwise and whistled for a foul. Grady went to the line and swished two free throws, extending Davidson’s advantage and essentially putting the game away.
“There was nothing I could do,” Carry added.
Despite his side losing 65-61 to Davidson, Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot liked his team’s fight on the road against the defending Atlantic-10 champs.
And he hopes — if presented the opportunity to do so — that Carry takes that chance again.
“He took a gamble at the end, but I liked it actually. I thought it was a good gamble,” Dambrot said. “He’s getting that more often than not. Most people wouldn’t like that as a coach, but I kind of liked it. I like Sincere. He’s a tough kid.”
Coming into Saturday’s contest — the first of the A-10 slate — Carry ranked fifth in the country in steal percentage. He had two swipes against Davidson, and a third could’ve led to a win.
“All the things we did wrong, we can learn from it,” Carry said. “We’ll watch film tomorrow and fix it.”
There are four A-10 teams ranked inside of KenPom’s top 100 and Davidson is one of them. The Dukes hung with the Wildcats wire-to-wire. And that contest was the first time that nine Duquesne players had ever competed in an A-10 game.
The Dukes are young and tough. Despite leaving North Carolina with a loss, they showed that much Saturday evening. They’ll be competitive in A-10 play — and likely exceed the preseason conference poll that picked them to finish 11th.
“We’re capable, just a little inconsistent, a little tired I thought there at the end,” Dambrot said. “We didn’t make a few plays when it really mattered, but we come in here against a solid program, one that’s been good for well over 30 years. They don’t lose many in this building. We had an opportunity, we just didn’t quite get it done.”
Making three-pointers still difficult
But the Dukes also showed that they have a lot to improve on. One of those areas is shooting from outside.
Coming into Saturday, Dambrot’s side was 274th in the country in three-point percentage, making just 31.8 percent of their attempts from behind the arc. That mark is the third worst in the A-10, just above La Salle and Rhode Island.
The Dukes scored 36 points in the paint Saturday, but to win consistently in 2019, teams have to have some sort of threat from outside.
“We haven’t shot the ball good from the three-line all year,” Dambrot said. “Which, until that occurs, we’re never going to be as good as we should.”
Duquesne shot decently from behind the arc in the first half, making four-of-10 shots, but followed that up by sinking just one three-pointer out of 11 attempts in the second half. Davidson went to a zone-defense in the second half, but Frankie Hughes didn’t think that made much of a difference.
“To be honest, we just couldn’t knock down shots. We got some good looks, it just wasn’t falling for us,” Hughes said. “(Davidson) didn’t do anything special, I don’t think. It was just tough on our end to get the ball in the hole.”
Hughes plays well on both ends
Hughes, a 6-foot-4 guard who transferred in from Missouri, connected on two-of-eight attempts from three-point land and finished the game with 12 points, three rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal. It was the fourth time this season he has scored in double digits, and the 13th time he’s hit at least one three-pointer.
But Dambrot was more impressed with his work on the other end of the court.
“I thought he played a good defensive game,” Dambrot said. “I think the biggest thing with him is keeping it simple, practicing harder. He’s a high-level recruit, he just has to be more consistent.”
Hughes’ assignment on Saturday wasn’t easy, but it was simple: guard Kellan Grady.
The former A-10 Rookie of the Year was returning to the court Saturday after missing a month of playing time with a knee injury. Grady finished with 17 points, but needed 15 shots to get there. Hughes also blocked Grady twice.
“That was my man. I was just trying to guard, to be honest. It wasn’t anything special, it was just kind of a pride thing,” Hughes said. “Coach is depending on you to guard arguably the best player on the team, you just got to buckle down and guard him.”
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) January 6, 2019
Dukes like the crowd
This was just the second true road game that Duquesne has played this year. They haven’t left Pittsburgh since Nov. 20 and, as previously mentioned, this was the first-ever A-10 contest for a lot of players.
But the lights from the national TV cameras, nor the noise from an announced crowd of 4,558 people, seemed to get to the Dukes.
“I didn’t think it would bother us,” Dambrot said. “I think the biggest lesson to be learned is that, the fanbase helps you. That’s what we have to get to in order to have a great program. You have to have that fanbase that, when your struggling, can rally you a bit.”
Sure, the Dukes struggled from three-point shooting, but they might have still happened if zero fans showed up. They turned the ball over less than Davidson and had three players score in double-digits. In a hostile A-10 environment, the Dukes seemed to thrive.
“(The atmosphere) was great. We haven’t had a big crowd at Palumbo in a while, so it was great to play in front of a big crowd here at Davidson,” Carry said. “I like it when there’s a big crowd. It feeds into our energy.”
Carry continues strong freshman season
Carry had one of his best games of the year on Bob McKillop Court at John M. Belk Arena, tallying five assists, four rebounds and 17 points, his third highest scoring total of the season. He also played solid defense on Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson’s point guard from Iceland.
A pre-season All-A-10 selection, Gudmundsson finished with 12 points and six assists, but he connected on zero of his four attempts from behind the arc and coughed up possession three times.
“Sincere is one of the best freshmen I’ve ever had,” Dambrot said. “And it’s unfortunate that we ask him to do so many different things, which at times hurts him because he’s a little tired. He’ll continue to improve his long-range shooting and he’s a very solid defender, very tough.”
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) January 6, 2019
Can’t overlook Fordham
The Dukes have played up to their competition all season. With nine minutes to go against Pitt, they trailed by only six points. They led Notre Dame with seven minutes to play. Penn State only beat them by six points. They took a victory from Marshall, an NCAA tournament team last season. And the Dukes nearly topped Davidson to begin A-10 play.
While the Dukes have kept things close with some of the stronger teams in college basketball, they have also let their foot off the gas against lesser teams. Falling to NJIT at home by 11 points is an example of that.
The Dukes matching the level of their competition is a trend that has their head coach worried about Wednesday, when Fordham — KenPom’s 219th ranked team — comes to town.
“The biggest thing with these guys is, they’re so young, they won’t give Fordham the respect that they gave Davidson, which is a problem with these guys. We’ve played to the level of the competition all year,” Dambrot said. “Against the best teams we’ve played pretty good. And Fordham is a weird team, so, if you’re not ready, they’ll beat you. They beat us last year. It was one the worst games we played all year and they drubbed us at home, so we better be ready.”