PITTSBURGH — Though his Duquesne men’s basketball team was down five points at halftime, coach Keith Dambrot was admittedly calm heading back into the PPG Paints Arena locker room, but that would soon change.
All of a sudden Dambrot’s Dukes started saying the wrong things and it did not take long for a three-minute screaming and yelling tirade to transpire.
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“The first half we were selfish,” Duquesne sophomore guard Sincere Carry offered. “We weren’t making the extra pass and we weren’t playing hard on defense. We were told in halftime that we had to do better in those areas and second half that was what we focused on. We played free and made the game simple.”
To support Carry’s claim, Duquesne had four assists on 13 first-half baskets and allowed Princeton to shoot 17-for-29 from the field including six three-point shots.
That would change in the second half as Princeton shot 35.7% from the field goal and had two assists compared to 10 turnovers, while Duquesne started rotating the ball earning nine assists while committing four turnovers.
Dambrot himself admitted it was a stupid thing scheduling a fast and physical West Virginia and then open the regular season against a finesse-type of team, but this was the schedule he created and the team was forced to respond.
All of a sudden, the Duquesne team which opened the contest down 23-9, ran away with a 94-67 victory over Princeton.
“We got hit in the mouth and we had to react,” Dambrot said. “It’s going to happen another 30 times this year so might as well take that body blow and see how we can react. We kind of wore them out a little bit.”
CARRY, STEELE FIND SHOTS
Over the summer, Carry began to do some self-assessing. How could he improve upon a freshman campaign which earned preseason Atlantic 10 honors?
Well for starters, he is healthy again and next it came down to working on his shot and improving as a three-point shooter, all while the triple line was moved further back.
As if he needed any reminding, Dambrot was quick to gather his sophomore after the first media timeout in the second half and offer quick advice.
Let it rip.
Carry did just that and scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, which included three three-point shots and a perfect 7-for-7 effort on two-point shots.
“I am always trying to improve whether it is on or off the court and one of the things for me was to have a better shot and expand my range,” Carry said. “They changed the line this year and I changed my jumper and tonight it showed. They were playing under me on the screens, so I had a lot of open shots and I just kept shooting it.”
Graduate student Baylee Steele entered Tuesday night with a 2-for-11 mark on his three-point shots, but Dambrot believed that it could be a strength.
All Steele did was make three against Princeton as he secured 19 points and also recorded five steals.
“My past coaches did not like five men shooting threes, so it was simple,” he said. “I’ve always worked on shooting, stuff on the side, but Coach D likes bigs shooting threes, so I shoot them.”
Jokingly, Dambrot stated he taught Steele how to be a three-point shooter, citing this as proof that he was a good coach.
Though the remark was lighthearted, it did call to attention that Steele’s long-distance shot making is a threat when he is able to connect with any kind of consistency.
“Once I saw him shoot and how much time he spent, if you watch him shoot in drills or when he’s working out, you would think he was one of the best three-point shooters on our team,” said Dambrot. “It’s just a matter of getting that mindset that he can make it in a game, when he gets that he becomes a hard matchup. You can’t switch because then you have a mess on your hands.”
PLUSSES AND MINUSES
A constant component to all of last season’s Inside the Dukes pieces, this will return and ideally at season’s end, it will be interesting to go back and see what the final numbers are.
To a degree this numbers are a bit misleading since two of the four players who had negative +/- were walkons who played two minutes. The others were Michael Hughes who was mostly on the court in the first half when Princeton got off to a quick start and Ashton Miller who only played five minutes as he is easing back to game action following an injury.
Marcus Weathers was a +34 on the evening with his 16-point, seven rebound performance. Weathers made an impact in the second half and appeared to be at the right place at the right time. Steele was a +27 and both Carry and Evan Buckley tied for third at +18.
“Evan Buckley really helped us,” Dambrot said. “He kept it simple, got the ball where it belonged and played good defense.”
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Princeton was dealt an early blow when starting guard Ryan Schwieger was injured and had to quickly react. The injury was covered early on as Drew Friberg totaled 19 points and made five three-point shots. Friberg had nine trifectas all of last season, making it something Duquesne did not heavily scout.
As a result, Duquesne had to anticipate the three more often and did just that as Princeton went 1-of-10 in the second half as the Tigers were starting to run out of gas.
ELLIS STATUS UPDATE
With Austin Rotroff on a minutes count in his return from injury, Amari Kelly not back from injury and Hughes in foul trouble, the question was posed, what about James Ellis?
Ellis was never mentioned by Dambrot in preseason interviews and did not play in the exhibition game against West Virginia. Indeed, Ellis also did not play Tuesday, so the very last question of Dambrot’s press conference was posed about where the Westinghouse product was in terms of getting on the court and the answer was an honest one.
“My job as a coach is to make sure I make people better students, people and basketball player,” Dambrot said. “Until James does what I want off the court, I’m not playing him. I like him, but I’m going to play hard ball until I get what I want from him. I want him to become what he should become. I tried being nice but I have to tough love him. I’m not going to quit on him but he is going to have to stand up and do the right thing.”
Though he played in the West Virginia exhibition, Rotroff was greeted with a warm ovation from the Duquesne fans as he was brought into the game.
It was far from a guarantee that Rotroff would be back this soon from an ACL injury he suffered in January, but here he was playing 13 minutes, which is a figure Dambrot does not want to exceed at the moment to reduce any risk for reinjury.
Rotroff totaled three points, but on this day that did not even come close to mattering.
“I played AAU basketball with Austin, so every time he makes a step it is exciting for me,” Carry said. “We’ve been on this path together, so I want to see him succeed more than I succeed.”
HE SAID IT
“We live in an environment of front runners now. When we make we’ll make more, now they key is to do that when we don’t make.” – Dambrot