Inside the Dukes: Comebacks, Hot Sauce and the Importance of Sin
PITTSBURGH — Carl Thomas is about as mild mannered of a person that sits on the Duquesne men’s basketball bench, but after the team tied a season-low first half point total in the Keith Dambrot era, he could not bite his tongue.
Rhode Island was making shots at a high clip, while Duquesne hit a dry spell on both ends of the basketball.
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“Carl Thomas just challenged their competitiveness and I’ve never seen him raise his voice,” Dambrot said. “He went nuts. He lost his mind. The guys went from bad to good, like chameleons.”
Dambrot came into Duquesne’s locker room calm, though disappointed that his team resembled a group of zombies on the court. When he heard coaches yelling at players, he was just glad it was not him for a change.
Duquesne responded by scoring a Dambrot-era high 53 second half points in a 75-72 victory Wednesday night which equaled the team’s biggest comeback in 21 years after overcoming a 19 point deficit.
The win places Duquesne at 6-2 in the Atlantic 10 for the second time in 40 years and the comeback is the fifth this season after trailing by double digits.
“It just shows how much fight we have in us,” Duquesne freshmen guard Sincere Carry said. “At halftime the coaches said this basically was a test for us to see how much heart we had and how much grit we had to come back. We showed them, everyone played their hearts and we got a good outcome.”
Duquesne is now three quarters of the way through perhaps its toughest stretch of Atlantic 10 play and won two of three home games against Saint Louis, VCU and Rhode Island, teams which have had conference traditions as powerhouses.
No one will truly know if this was to be a clean sweep had Carry been healthy, but regardless of Saturday’s outcome at Dayton, Duquesne put two wins together and had a good first half together against VCU.
“We knew what was on our schedule and what was coming before us,” Duquesne redshirt sophomore guard Frankie Hughes said. “The four game stretch we are having right now, you have to come in every day ready to go. We come in with a lot of energy, when we started today it was slow but in the second half we were ready to play and it showed.”
In a lot of ways this game was almost a complete role reversal from last year’s 61-58 Rhode Island triumph.
Last year, Duquesne led for 29:59 of game action before falling and in this edition of the yearly clash, Rhode Island owned the advantage for 29:54 and again the final score was a three-point difference.
“The first half just wasn’t us,” said Carry. “We weren’t talking on defense, we weren’t playing together. In the second half we came out with energy because we knew it had to start on defense. Once we got stops and turnovers it led to easy baskets, fastbreak threes and the crowd’s energy boosted us.”
BIG SHOT FRANK
After Duquesne ended practice Tuesday, Dambrot motioned for Hughes to see him and the two went to the far side of the practice court away from the media and wrapped arms around each other.
At halftime, those arms were no longer around the back but Dambrot may have wanted to place his hands somewhere else.
Hughes was 0-for-3 from the field and with his team down 16 fired an errant alley-oop to Eric Williams Jr which was well off the mark, which caused the former to bury his head into his hands.
The upset Dambrot decided to start Tavian Dunn-Martin, benching Hughes to open the second half.
“The relationship I have with Coach Dambrot is a little weird,” Hughes said. “He gives me tough love, he never gives me sugar, it’s always hot sauce. What he says to me I have to take and build a fire from it.”
Perhaps earlier in the season, when players were worried about playing time, this may have carried over, but that was not the case Wednesday.
Instead, Hughes matched his season high set in the team’s last game against VCU matching a career-high of five three-point baskets while totaling 20 points.
“Big shot Frank strikes again,” said Dambrot. “He’s made a lot of big shots when you really think about it. When the game’s on the line, he’s not scared. You have to live with his bad shots sometimes.”
Hughes struggled early on just making shots and did not make any three-point baskets in two preseason scrimmages and it took three games to reach double figures, which he accomplished in Akron against Radford.
“This is college basketball, nothing is supposed to be handed to you,” Hughes said at the time. “I just try to stick with it, keep my head high and compete.”
Hughes has been a consistent starter since the team’s Dec. 22 game against NJIT as Dambrot believes he has practiced well.
There was another adjustment as Hughes received more minutes but the hard work in practice had to translate into games. Dambrot has stuck with Hughes and the decision has been a good one.
ALL I NEED IN THIS LIFE OF SIN
It is clear how important Sincere Carry has been to this team, this has been clear all season and the Solon, OH native is on the short list for the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Year honor.
Carry had pain in his knee which was enough for him to miss the VCU game but after getting his knee drained, was back and played 37 minutes, the most of anyone from either team.
Perhaps the most important development is that he stated he felt 100%, though Dambrot stated a day earlier that he may have to play with some knee pain throughout the season.
Regardless of his status, Carry would not be denied Wednesday.
“The one thing he doesn’t do is quit,” Dambrot said. “When the captain doesn’t quit, your team is not going to quit. He really kind of imposed his will a little bit.”
On the evening, Carry tallied 16 points and seven assists. Towards the end of the game, Carry was the one who had make free throws and he made all eight of his second half efforts, once again leading by example.
“I was kind of disappointed in myself,” said Carry. “I felt like I let my teammates down playing against VCU because I felt I could have made a big difference and helped our team win that game. I did my rehab to get my knee back and did all that, iced it so I could get back to this game and try to help us win. I think I did my job.”
PLUSES AND MINUSES
In spite of everything mentioned above, redshirt sophomore center Michael Hughes had Duquesne’s best plus/minus at +15.
This makes sense because his stats did not take as much of a hit in the first half as Hughes typically plays around 25 minutes a game and when he was out, Duquesne started to take a dip in how it played on both ends of the floor.
Though he recorded two points, freshman guard Lamar Norman Jr was a +12 in 10 minutes. He did not play at all in the first half which helped, but when he came in, he defended well as evidenced by two steals and his basket tied the game at 56. Most importantly, he played with energy which helped his teammates on the floor.
Freshman forward Amari Kelly was a -13 and much of this was due to a first half in which Hughes was out and Rhode Island had its offense clicking. Freshman forward Gavin Bizeau had a similar circumstance at a -8 and missed both of his three-point attempts.
DON’T LET ME GET IN MY ZONE
Dambrot has heard some of the Duquesne fan base asking for him to play for of the desperation zone and if Wednesday’s game is an inclination, then expect nothing to change.
“Just for everybody that wants me to play zone, I tried to play zone, they scored every damn time so you may never see it again,” he said. “You have to know what you are.”