McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — After an incomplete effort against VMI, the Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot would have been well within his rights if he made his team grind out lengthy practices to address many shortcomings, but those who assume that do not know a man who has dedicated 22 years of his life to the college game.
“Everything I do is based on instincts,” Dambrot said. “I don’t go by the book. I practiced 45 minutes three days in a row. That’s not a lot. Most people after that last game would have gone after it. We practiced with enthusiasm and some juice. We just played better, shared the ball and good things happened.”
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It is no secret that Duquesne is one of eight remaining unbeaten teams but after the Washington Post’s John Feinstein threw a vote in the Dukes direction, people are trying to figure out who the team is–let alone if it is for real.
Consider Monday night’s response, a convincing 90-54 trouncing of Columbia a message sent.
From the opening tip, Duquesne dominated this game, its closest effort towards a complete 40 minutes to date.
“We took care of stuff on the defensive end early, so I think that made us get out to an early lead,” freshman guard Maceo Austin said. “Our offense takes care of itself. We’ve got guys that can fill up the stats sheet that way.”
At halftime, Dambrot had another choice as to how to handle his men and being up 45-21 at halftime was not enough for him. He wanted more and proceeded to yell at his team for four minutes.
“I crushed them at halftime,” said Dambrot. “Sometimes you have to massage the horse, sometimes you kick the horse. Most people massage and kick at the wrong time. I screamed for four minutes, then I calmed down and then last game, I massaged them.”
Again, message sent.
Really, that is the thing with Dambrot, if you walked into LaRoche’s Kerr Fitness Center Monday night and did not see the score, it would be hard to tell who was winning.
“He stays on us,” redshirt junior guard Tavian Dunn-Martin said. “He doesn’t let up, so it’s hard for that to happen. He thinks we’re 0-8.”
PAINTING A PICTURE
Because there is a certain amount of flair that comes with a three-point shot, Duquesne may be considered a team that tries to go that route, but really it was the inside-out game which told the story Monday.
Duquesne scored 52 of its 90 points in the paint. In fact it scored 10 of its first 11 points this way and also of the 24 assists, 10 were from post players.
“We worked really hard on the post double this week because we felt like we were going to get a lot of it because our post guys are good,” Dambrot said. “We’ll work on that in a daily basis. Mike Hughes, that was one of his best games all year because he really did not care if he scored or not. He had a passing inclination especially in the first half.”
The post presence forced Columbia to keep Duquesne honest which opened up deep shots. Duquesne sank 10 threes on the evening, reaching double digits for the third time this season, which Austin called “returning the favor”.
PLUSES AND MORE PLUSES
Though it seems like commonplace, Austin again led Duquesne in +/-, this time with a +40 total after setting both a season and career high with 18 points, while also adding seven rebounds.
“Maceo is in a good mood every single day,” Dambrot said. “He allows me to get on him and help him improve, which helps. He is a key piece.”
Austin admitted that the college game moves much faster than high school but believes that with the right mindset, that it is certainly possible to adapt.
He showed maturity committing a first-half turnover and rectifying that by making a three-point basket shortly after which showed maturity as he did not sulk on the miscue, rather moving on to the next play.
Dunn-Martin and Hughes, or as Dambrot calls them “Tom and Jerry, though I don’t know which is which”, each were at +27. Dunn-Martin easily set a season high with 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting while making five three-point shots on evening.
“Tavian is the ultimate frontrunner,” said Dambrot. “I’ve been around him four years now and when he has it rolling, he does that. When he doesn’t sometimes he doesn’t rally great, we’re working on that. He’s an explosion waiting to happen. I’ll give you my house if he shoots 25% from three, you can have it.”
Sophomore forward Austin Rotroff played 11 minutes, his second highest total of the season and though he still is working on his explosiveness, a fact evidenced by four fouls, he appeared closer and did force a turnover on the defensive end.
As for sophomore forward Amari Kelly, Dambrot may have more of a predicament. While nothing suggests that Kelly is less along than previously reported, what is in his best interest has yet to be determined. Dambrot stated that while he could be fully healthy, Duquesne could be too far along, to where he may not be happy playing eight minutes a game and perhaps take a redshirt season to maximize his eligibility and potential on-court contribution.
Freshman guard Ashton Miller appeared very questionable for this game after being kneed in the back in the VMI contest, but played 17 minutes in the win.
Another big plus were the points off turnovers as Duquesne scored 26 points on 17 Columbia turnovers, while Columbia was held to five points off 10 Dukes miscues.
Opinion on Duquesne is divided and quite frankly, Dambrot does not care, he puts a lot of stock in the eight wins.
“They’re eight wins,” he said. “You can choose to be negative or you can choose to be positive. You can say they played no one or you can say they are 8-0. People will choose either side of the fence, I really don’t care. I’ll just stay under the radar and do my thing, that’s how I see it.”
There are those that will look at Duquesne’s schedule and feel that the Dukes have not played everyone, while others will view undefeated exactly as it is. Even though Duquesne has had to come back in several games, it really has yet to truly be in a dangerous spot in a game.
“I like our schedule it’s a perfect schedule for this particular program at this particular time under these particular circumstances,” said Dambrot.
Dambrot feels those circumstances make it far more meaningful to build a program than facing five high-major schools.
As he sees it, Dambrot views this as a four-step process which begins with becoming a consistent winner, which Duquesne has been able to start to do. Next it will come down to competing for conference championships each year, which is something Dambrot has stressed since his introductory press conference.
After that, the task is being nationally prominent and finally staying there every year like Gonzaga has.
Currently, Duquesne is close to putting the finishing touches on the first step, meaning there still is plenty of work for the Dukes to reach this goal.
Why is this becoming a possibility?
Simply put, it is because the team has started playing for each other.
“I think we can go as far as we let ourselves go,” said Dunn-Martin. “We just have to keep playing hard and getting better each game. We are playing more as a team this year. We’re more family oriented than we were last year. This year cares more to win than we did last year.”
Dunn-Martin may appreciate this journey more than most as he along with Hughes came from Akron with Dambrot and what a ride it has already been.
“The first couple of years were kind of slow,” he said. “I feel like everybody was not bought in and no one believed he could get it back to where Duquesne used to be. Coach D definitely talks about (the 8-0 start). He says if we keep focused, the votes will keep coming and the media will keep coming. We just want to keep playing and winning and see where it takes us.”
How Duquesne’s journey ends this season is far from known, though it will continue Saturday in Akron as it hosts Radford at Ellet High School.