McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In hindsight, Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot probably saw Wednesday night’s 71-58 victory coming but not because of the result, rather how the team got there.
This was extremely far from a clinical win and everyone on the Duquesne bench knows it.
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Just ask Sincere Carry.
“They played harder than us in spurts in the first half,” he said.
Mike Hughes too.
“We had seven days after the Bahamas where everyone went home and an extra three days of practice,” said Hughes. “We weren’t in our groove. We had to bounce back and shake that rust quicker than usual.”
Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot is never shy to tell it like it is
“You pretty much see what happened to us tonight in practice,” Dambrot said. “We just got out of our routine and struggled.”
This was a statement Dambrot seemed to hint after Monday’s practice to PSN. Duquesne lost its ability to practice in the morning for nearly two weeks and it showed on the court. Duquesne has enjoyed the routine and comfort that the morning practices provided and it was clear that going back to these did not immediately happen over night.
“I think you can’t turn it on and off,” said Dambrot. “I think if you practice well, you usually play pretty good in the game. I cut way back the last two days, because they scared me. They were dead as a doornail.”
It was understandable given the time off that Duquesne showed extended signs of struggling but after scoring the opening seven points it was puzzling that the struggle essentially lasted for the remainder of the first half.
Duquesne repeated too many mistakes handling VMI’s matchup zone and even a pass between teammates less than 10 feet from each other was so far off the mark, the receiving Duke just watched it sail out of bounds.
That was one of 10 first half Duquesne turnovers.
“I tried to get them emotionally engaged because I figured, physically, we’re good enough,” Dambrot said. “We looked tired, really, to be honest with you.”
The bench did not give Duquesne as much of a lift in terms of points. Yes Lamar Norman Jr recorded a highlight-reel style dunk, his first in game as a Dukes player, but the bench was outscored 34-11 and one VMI reserve, Travis Evee, scored a career high 26 points.
Yes Duquesne did turn it around. It committed just three second half turnovers and opened on a 12-2 run but this is what is expected of the Dukes. Duquesne has now come back from a double-digit deficit 12 times in the last two seasons and Atlantic 10 play has not even begun yet.
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Hughes stated that Duquesne was able to change the outcome of this game because they chased VMI’s shooters. He did admit that no one really likes chasing shooters, but everyone switched keeping it fresh, while allowing the team to remain engaged.
Despite much of the above, Duquesne is 7-0 for the first time in 40 years and Dambrot certainly will not complain about that.
“7-0 ain’t bad,” he said. “We’ll take it.”
SIN CHANNELS MJ
As much as Dambrot talks about LeBron James, Wednesday offered a throwback to Michael Jordan as Sincere Carry was sick in the two days prior to this game and even threw up at halftime.
One of Jordan’s most known games was his flu game, where the player formally known as “his airness” played 44 minutes in an NBA Finals contest and scored 38 points despite clearly being worse for the wear.
By no means is this non-conference game anywhere near similar stakes to the NBA Finals, but perhaps Carry needed halftime more than anyone as he threw up, showing effects of his illness.
Still, Carry battled admirably for over 32 minutes scoring 13 points and adding eight assists.
For those wondering why reporters did not ask Carry about the illness, players always speak to the media first followed by the coaches and Dambrot was the one who brought it up.
It is no surprise that Carry played, he did despite likely being in a good amount of pain for much if not all of his freshman season.
“The good ones want to play, man,” Dambrot said. “He wants to play. So, I took him out tonight to try to get him a rest or two, and he kind of yelled at me.”
NO COINCIDENCE HUGHES HAS A GOOD NIGHT
It is no secret that one of the biggest keys this season has been whether or not Mike Hughes stays out of foul trouble.
When Hughes avoids the whistles, Duquesne seems to have more freedom on the court. Of course being able to have someone who is able to do as much as Hughes does is certainly a plus as well.
“The one thing Mike does that nobody else can do on the team right now is defend at the rim,” Dambrot said after practice Monday. “The last two games he wasn’t in foul trouble he blocked five shots each. You get five blocks from a guy and the other shots get changed because he’s in your heads. We need to keep him in the game sometimes. We talk to him about not blocking every shot, the one he is not sure of he can change the shot and he can get better at that. He can’t get a cheap foul hedging a ball screen or going over the back. We can’t get those cheapies, he can get the legitimate ones.”
Hughes did not pick up a foul in the first half and when he was whistled in the second half, his first foul was a bang-bang play though the second one was unquestionable. Still, not picking up a foul in the first half was able to provide a boost for a longer period of time.
With VMI playing a matchup zone, Duquesne’s posts were getting double teamed upon receiving the ball in the paint. Hughes was the lone post able to counter and played for over 34 minutes.
Hughes put forth a career-high of 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and added 11 rebounds, good for his sixth career double-double and third this season.
“As he gets in better shape, we’ll be better,” said Dambrot. “He’s a good player now, and he’s about 60% of what he could be. He’s a talented guy. He just has to become a little more emotionally stable and get in better condition.”
PLUSES AND MINUSES
Seven of the nine Duquesne players who saw the court had positive +/- figures led by freshman guard Maceo Austin at +17.
Evan Buckley was a -5 in 4:28 of game action. Buckley did not see any time in the second half thus he played the least of any Duquesne player.
Freshman guard Ashton Miller was a -4 in his 15:26. Miller was 1-of-4 from the field with his one basket being from relatively close range.
This number is a bit skewed though he was kneed in the back during the second half. He needed time to get up after the injury, which meant a media timeout was called.
Dambrot is unsure of the severity of this injury and there are doubts that he can play Monday against Columbia.
“He’s a loss,” he said. “We need him out there defensively. He gives Maceo minutes. He’s going to be a good player. He’s not all the way there yet, but he’s going to be a good player.”
HE SAID IT
“The advantage we have in our conference is that we can score down low. Very few people throw it in like we do, so we know we’re going to get double teamed. We have to get better than that if we’re going to win the league. Defensively we are better than our team in Akron, when we got doubled in Akron we made them pay the price, right now we’re a little erratic.” – Dambrot