McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot is not afraid to have conversations with his team and this week was no different as it was redshirt junior forward Marcus Weathers who was the subject.
From what essentially has been day one, Weathers has befriended Carl Thomas who is an assistant to Dambrot. Thomas enjoyed a 63-game NBA career which spanned three seasons and understands what it takes to succeed at that level.
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Weathers has listened to Thomas, but in this meeting, it was time for a reminder.
“We hit him hard on being great at and quit worrying about stuff he is not great at,” Dambrot said. “Marcus should be the best junkyard dog in the country, he should be the best offensive rebounder, be a lock-down defender, get his hands on balls, slash to the rim, make open shots but when he tries to do other things he’ll be fair.”
To his credit, Weathers responded with what may be his most complete game in a Duquesne uniform, a 13-point, 12-rebound, six-steal effort.
As Weathers was asked about his six steals, which just so happen to be a career high,
“I feel that coming into this year, the game has slowed down a lot on both ends,” he said. “I really focused more of my energy on the defensive end and trying to be a rebounding guy for this team.”
Weathers’ effort was key in a 58-36 Duquesne victory over Lipscomb, Friday night at Kerr Fitness Center.
By no means is that final score a misprint. That was indeed the final and one in which Lipscomb did not make a three-point shot, snapping a streak of 474 consecutive games making at least one.
Of course it takes two to tango, and Duquesne went 1-for-22 from deep, with redshirt junior guard Tavian Dunn-Martin’s second-half make being the only successful conversion, a moment in which the five-foot-eight guard gestured to the heavens.
If you look closely at the renovated Palumbo Center, Dambrot may very well have been outside an entrance posting a help wanted ad seeking defense.
As it has been well documented, there is no secret to be had when a defensively-minded Dambrot has been frustrated that this background had yet to translate.
Anytime, Duquesne would win, he would essentially reply with a “yeah, but” as he would point out that once again his Dukes were sluggish on defense.
If Duquesne wanted to win Friday night, there would be no choice but to play defense after such a poor display from the three-point line and finally the team was up to the task.
Lipscomb came in averaging 84 points a game and under first-year coach Lennie Acuff, an individual Dambrot credits as one of the best offensive minds in the game, any lapse would be capitalized on and Duquesne did not have many miscues.
For one, Duquesne recorded 15 steals, two off a school high and in the second half when it mattered most, Lipscomb shot 21.7% from the field, making five shots from the field in the final 20 minutes of work.
It was hard not to notice Lipscomb’s 36 total points, which is the lowest total Duquesne has conceded Mar. 10, 1980 against Saint Peter’s.
“I am proud of how we defended,” Dambrot said. “All good teams win at the defensive end. For me, I’ll take this game over a 96-92 game any day of the week, that’s my preference.”
Weathers stated his belief that defense can travel and that efforts such as Friday’s have to continue if Duquesne wants to be an elite team.
Dambrot consistently has poked fun at millennial culture, though it was quite clear that despite offensive struggles, Duquesne remained patient and engaged on the defensive end.
Even though one game is the smallest of sample sizes, Dambrot was encouraged by his team’s mindset and with a sense of pride stated that if such an effort continues, Duquesne will be tough to score on.
“If you come and play at that end and you’re selfless, you can win regardless of how well you shoot the ball,” said Dambrot.
ELLIS MAKES FIRST APPEARANCE
After the team’s season-opening win against Princeton, Dambrot stated that redshirt freshman James Ellis was held out of the contest, as he was not holding up to expectations off of the court.
Friday, Dambrot played Ellis for the final 2:41 of the game. Ellis received a warm ovation upon entering the game and similar sentiments as he scored his first collegiate points and when he grabbed his first rebound.
Following the game, Dambrot stated that Ellis playing was by design.
“I wanted him to see there was light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I didn’t want him to quit on himself, me or the program. I want him to understand that if he does the right things, I am not a nasty, mean old man, but I also don’t want to love him so much that I enable him to do things the wrong way. We’re not out of the woods yet, he’s a talented guy, I thought he played hard. I thought his attitude was good on the bench, I think he’s been better at practice.”
According to Dambrot, Ellis’ issue was not basketball related, but when pressed forward as to whether it was academic or attitude related, the third-year coach was more vague stating it was “a little bit of everything”.
PLUSSES AND MINUSES
Looking at basic statistics, it may come as a surprise that freshman guard Maceo Austin had the best +/- total of the evening at +24.
Austin had four points in the effort, but Dambrot did not appear surprised based on what he saw.
“When we don’t have him in the game we suffer a bit, he is a jack of all trades,” Dambrot said.
Weathers was just behind Austin at +23 with two of Duquesne’s 11 players in this contest having a negative +/- rate.
NO PLACE LIKE ‘HOME’
The question started off easily enough as Dambrot was asked if anything in Duquesne’s opening three games collectively gave him a feeling of optimism as the team left for the Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam but quickly the answer took more of a right turn than a trip to LaGuardia Airport.
Dambrot began to poke fun at not having a home gym, while going through a day in his life, laughing all the way.
“I feel like I’m camping every day,” he said. “I pack my suitcase, I make my tent, I take my nap in the tent, then I come to the game in a strange place with dark lights. I actually like it and then I drive back another 35 minutes, get my suitcase out of the car, put it back into the office and I always worry I’m going to forget something. It is a strange thing. It’s going to be a fun deal, one a lot of people wouldn’t like, but I don’t mind it. I like the challenge of it, but I’m the same guy who came to Duquesne, so maybe I am a little nutty.”