PITTSBURGH — For the first time in what seemed like a while, Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot could smile.
His team had just beaten Saint Joseph’s 85-84 Saturday at the Palumbo Center, but the way it came back from a double-digit deficit and ran offensive sets with a simplistic style that proved effective.
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In total, six players scored in double figures, which represents a season-high total.
“I feel like we played the right way for one of the few times this year,” he said. “We finally figured out in the last 10 minutes if we throw the ball to Mike (Hughes), we could shoot open shots and not have to play the hard way. I felt we played the most simplistic we’ve played all year. Marcus (Weathers) made a couple of open threes they couldn’t double off as easily and we passed in better spots. When we play like that we are much better than when we have to generate everything through the ball screens.”
Coming into the game, Duquesne had a loose nature in the pregame warmups and shot with purpose. It understood that Saint Joseph’s was a dangerous opponent for a variety of reasons.
Saint Joseph’s had yet to win a conference game, one of three teams in that boat coming into Saturday and had 12 points at halftime of its last game. That creates a certain level of desperation both from a player and coaching standpoint.
Additionally, the Hawks may have been the most consistent shooting team in non-conference play and Dambrot understands how the law of averages work.
Sure enough, Saint Joseph’s opened the game with a 22-7 lead and its bench was very much into the game.
One thing which did help Duquesne were the 2,829 in attendance which were loud in spots when needed, something which was encouraged by PA announcer Dom Errico.
“The fan base was key,” said Dambrot. “When there are a lot of people in the stands, relatively speaking, the fans were really good. That fan base helped us win the game tonight, even the old people.”
Of course the injury to Saint Joseph’s Pierfrancesco Oliva which created a 10 minute, 30 second stoppage in the game.
When Oliva went down, he was loudly screaming in pain and attempted to get a referee’s attention. Duquesne was moving the ball in transition when the whistle came and fans temporarily voiced their displeasure until seeing the nature of Oliva’s injury.
This game was broadcast on AT&T Network and the screams could be heard through the broadcast which after the truck saw a replay of the injury opted not to show it live to viewers due to the graphic nature of Oliva’s discomfort.
A small group of medical professionals, trainers and Duquesne personnel gathered around Oliva with the decision immediately being made to cart him off the court. A Saint Joseph’s staffer went into the team locker room and grabbed his possessions while a stunned silence filled the Palumbo Center.
“It shakes you and makes you feel for the player,” Duquesne redshirt sophomore center Michael Hughes said. “It may be competitive, people go at it but at the end of the day, it’s about everyone being safe. I pray for him and his family. You can’t take anything for granted.”
The delay allowed Dambrot and Duquesne as a whole to regroup.
Still, Dambrot went over to the Saint Joseph’s bench to check on the Hawks and consoled Oliva just before he was carted off.
As Oliva was carted off, he did give a thumbs up to everyone in attendance and received a standing ovation from everyone.
“Prayers for Oliva,” he said. “That was one of the worst things I’ve seen. I told our guys we take a lot of things for granted. I can’t imagine their locker room.”
Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli split his time between comforting Oliva and going back to console his teammates. Before Oliva was carted off, Martelli had each teammate embrace their redshirt junior.
“We came out of the first half and two of our starters had not scored, so everybody’s got to do more,” said Martelli. “I think they were just really stunned about Checco’s (Oliva) injury.”
According to Duquesne’s Director of Athletics David Harper, Oliva was taken to a UPMC medical facility where his knee was popped back into place without surgery. This news does not guarantee he will return to campus without requiring surgery.
Saint Joseph’s tweeted out that Martelli remained in Pittsburgh with Oliva through the night with the account also stating that any further updates will come through its website and social media platforms.
DUNN-MARTIN, HUGHES PLAY LARGE ROLES
For the first time all season, Duquesne offensively rode the hot hand and doing so opened up the team for open looks.
Duquesne fed Michael Hughes in the post several consecutive possessions and he went to work. He was able to make baskets or earn a trip to the free throw line because Saint Joseph’s post players either did not match up physically or did not get to the right spots in time.
As Dambrot mentioned above, Marcus Weathers making two three-point shots early in the second half allowed for Hughes to be more open.
Even when Saint Joseph’s brought the double teams, Hughes was able to escape trouble and find success or kick out to reset the offense.
“It’s a rhythm but I think it lifted me up and my teammates trusted me,” he said. “It puts pressure on me but it releases pressure on me because my teammates have faith in me, it works both ways, that’s how a team works.”
Hughes had mixed results at the foul line but after missing four in a row, made two to steady himself and he gestured up to the heavens. On the Saint Joseph’s bench, Martelli was doing the same, but for a much different reason.
“We had a lot of trouble guarding the low post,” said Martelli. “It was certainly not a lack of effort, it was just an unfortunate result.”
When Duquesne was down 15 points, Dunn-Martin was the catalyst in bringing his team back whether it was timely shooting, a steal or just sitting down and defending.
Dunn-Martin achieved 15 points in this game, which represents his career high.
“The one thing Tavian allows us to do is get another ball-pressure guy in,” Dambrot said. “The extra ball-pressure guy in there creates a little more havoc and makes you a little bit better defensively.”
ON CARRY AND WILLIAMS
Anytime a piece of this kind of length waits this long to talk about Sincere Carry, it can be understood how much the team was able to play together.
Carry played the full 40 minutes, scoring 12 points, amassing six assists and adding five rebounds but with the effort the previously mentioned two players showed he was not tired at the end, which has happened in the past.
“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Dambrot said.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign of everything for Duquesne was Eric Williams Jr’s effort today.
A lot of times this season, Williams has been feast or famine and with his 3-for-10 performance from the field and 1-for-6 mark from deep, it appeared to be the latter, which in the past has caused him to shut down, if not with performance, by body language.
That did not happen Saturday as he was still battling for rebounds and not forcing up shots for the sake of shooting.
Williams also was part of the game’s most important sequence dunking off a Dunn-Martin missed layup which put Duquesne up by two possessions late in the contest.
“I thought he hung in there which I think is a key thing,” said Dambrot. “We hit everyone on hitting adversity. You have to handle prosperity and our team has had trouble at times handling adversity, he did a better job tonight hanging in, doing his job and making plays when it mattered.”
PLUSES AND MINUSES
Duquesne went with a short bench Saturday opting for eight players, with six players all seeing at least 20 minutes. Of course, those were the six players who achieved double digit point totals.
“I didn’t really like it to be frank,” Dambrot said of the shortened bench. “We played from behind number one, then started to play pretty good, so I just went that way. It was hard to get Sincere out. It was a weird game and I just decided to go with the eight guys.”
Dunn-Martin had the highest plus/minus of anyone on the team with a +22, while Williams Jr was next at +8. Michael Hughes ended up being a +7. Despite a big three-point basket towards the end of the game, Frankie Hughes was a -20. Teammates Marcus Weathers (-8) and Amari Kelly (-7) rounded out those among the octet in the red.
Duquesne already had one mulligan this season defeating Fordham at home earlier in the week. The Rams handed Duquesne one of its worst losses of the season and now Wednesday Richmond awaits. Duquesne was unable to win in overtime against the Spiders at home last season and then laid an egg at A-10’s when not everyone on the court was committed.