PITTSBURGH — It is easy to be an armchair fan and wonder how a Duquesne men’s basketball which is undefeated in conference play struggled against a Fordham squad bitten by injuries and inconsistency, but as coach Keith Dambrot sat at the postgame podium he would not apologize for the end result.
A win is a win.
At the end of the day, Duquesne will not be viewed by struggling to defeat an inspired Fordham opponent 58-56 Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena, rather the 15-2 overall and 5-0 Atlantic 10 mark.
Duquesne which is currently receiving both votes into top 25 polls and has earned a spot in ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket had to scratch and claw but found ways to win
“I don’t think we relaxed, I didn’t get that feel,” Dambrot said. “I felt more like we were running in mud. I think we were emotionally drained a little bit. They played well and sometimes you have to tip you hat. We couldn’t dominate the inside which makes it an even game. When we can’t dominate the inside then the game becomes even. We just didn’t have great individual performances.”
Though Fordham has been towards the bottom of the conference in the last couple of years, it has always been a difficult opponent for Duquesne.
Two years ago as Dambrot first began at Duquesne, the Rams humiliated the Dukes at the Palumbo Center taking advantage of a team which was not able to score the basketball at a consistent rate. The 80-57 Fordham victory was its only road triumph all season.
Last season, Duquesne found itself down 19 points in the second half, though the Dukes’ triumph at Rose Hill Gymnasium was one of many by the “comeback kids” that started to turn heads in regards to never counting out a Keith Dambrot coached team.
Fordham certainly had its opportunities to win Wednesday leading at halftime, having the last possession in regulation and playing in a rather quiet overtime period.
As cliche as it sounded, these two teams entered play as the most dominant defenses in the Atlantic 10 and each had its way. Duquesne shot 37.3% from the field and Fordham 35.6%.
Despite the field goal percentage, Duquesne still had 17 assists on its 19 field goals, which not only is a high percentage, but each basket had to be earned, as the Dukes had to display more creativity.
“Coach Dambrot he has tons of plays just to get the ball into the post with dribble entries, high-lows, things like that,” Duquesne redshirt junior forward Marcus Weathers said. “It speaks volumes about our team. We have a lot of guys who know a lot about basketball and study basketball. It speaks to the IQ of our guys.”
Despite the struggles, the assists were evident that Duquesne refused to concede this game and in reality, Dambrot was not upset with his team, even offering encouragement at halftime. In fact, Dambrot was less discouraged by this game than this past weekend’s contest at George Washington.
Even when Duquesne conceded the final seven points in regulation and threw the ball all around PPG Paints Arena, Dambrot knew his team would recover in the overtime period, which is exactly what happened.
“It is human nature generally when you do something like that to think it’s a downer, right,” he asked. “Stuff happens. You just have to play. You could see us ratchet up when we were in trouble. We only had one offensive rebound in the first half and two fouls. That tells you we were relatively soft and not making tough plays. You could see us turn it up a little bit and in overtime we did what we had to do. It wasn’t perfect but it is all little intangible plays that win games.”
Perhaps the biggest difference came from bench play. Though neither team went deep in its bench, Duquesne outscored Fordham’s reserves by a 13-2. Not only that, but Baylee Steele was a +12 in 22:01 of game action and Tavian Dunn-Martin was a +9. None of Fordham’s trio of reserves who played registered a positive plus/minus rate.
Duquesne’s duo proved very effective in the overtime period scoring six of the team’s seven points. Dunn-Martin nailed a three-point shot, his lone basket in the game and then saw Fordham a split second behind in its defensive set and quickly made a post entry pass to Steele for a layup. Steele also split free throws in the overtime period.
At the end of the day, Duquesne had more answers than Fordham did and though the result certainly was not pretty, it will help come season’s end when the time comes for what Dambrot considers “teeth-pulling contests”.
As Dambrot prepared to depart the podium, he offered this, a clear showing that Duquesne’s expectations have changed and the audience of 2,356 including Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade all got to see it.
“It’s funny how things change,” said Dambrot. “Before, Duquesne was 15-2 and everybody would be pretty excited. Now we’re worried about how we’re playing which is good. My job is to have high expectations and make sure they’re good. Your job is too, right? We don’t want to be a non-tournament team, so we’ve got to play better. I’m glad you guys have that expectation, because I have it too.”
A SCOUT WELL EXECUTED
Fordham came into this game with a clear plan on the defensive end, one which Duquesne has seen before but had mixed results.
Assistant coach Mike DePaoli was barking out calls on the defensive end and Fordham prepared to double team inside of the post and even provided triple teams in multiple instances.
Fordham was sending a clear message, specifically seeming to dare Lamar Norman Jr to shoot the basketball.
Norman entered Duquesne’s starting line up as conference play commenced and to date has been the lone change to the opening five.
In terms of scoring, his had yet to find his groove but toughed out an ankle injury against Davidson. Still it is clear that his defense has shown improvement and that goes a long way with Dambrot.
After the Davidson game, redshirt junior center Mike Hughes talked about the guards being disrespected as the posts sent double teams and it was something Norman noticed.
All Norman did was match his career-high with 20 points, the sixth Duquesne player to score that many points this season, while also setting a career-high with six three-point shots made.
“I feel like did because I have been off the last couple of games,” he said. “I feel like they sagged off so glad I got it back. It was getting extra reps in the gym, but our team, we pulled it off today.”
Dambrot said Norman’s performance was deserving because of the work he puts in. Norman he says never complains and just goes to work.
Fordham’s strategy did do a good job of frustrating Duquesne’s post players as Hughes took five shots all game and although he scored seven points, he was assessed a technical foul as he had exchanged words with Fordham’s Onyi Eyisi all game and after the former dunked more dialogue was exchanged and referee Steve Anderson had enough and blew the whistle.
Weathers had a solid final line of eight points and 10 rebounds but shot two-for-seven from the field, and many of those points were scored in a critical stretch late in regulation.
With Norman scoring, Fordham had to match his production and opted to switch to a zone defense after calling timeout.
The zone only seemed to further frustrate Duquesne as the offense became stagnant. Fordham took the lead at halftime as it played keep away and ultimately Ivan Raut sank a three-point shot.
Fordham was able to stay in the game with this defense and some timely shots in the second half. It was clear that Duquesne maintained a level of frustration as shots were not consistently falling and there of course was the emotional aspect of wanting to win the game for Maceo Austin.
Duquesne really had to be creative and use a lot of play calls to get looks and ultimately in a one-possession outcome, that proved critical.
“The way Fordham played us, they fronted the post and denied entry passes,” said Weathers. “They played hard. We show every team respect and they show us respect as well. We took them as a challenge and they gave us a really good game and everything they had.”
END OF THE GAME THEATRICS
To say there were a lot of stoppages in Wednesday’s game would be an understatement. Really it had nothing to do with foul calls, but rather several official reviews.
The biggest delay came at the end of the overtime period.
Fordham fouled Sincere Carry down 57-56 with three seconds left. Carry sank the first free throw and Rams coach Jeff Neubauer attempted a substitution which was not granted.
Neubauer tried appealing to an official which caused a lengthy delay. Fordham, which was out of timeouts, essentially had a three-to-four minute respite as the officials talked with Neubauer, among themselves, with the official scorer and checked the review monitor.
The delay essentially allowed Fordham an opportunity to draw up a play but also massively iced Carry who was flailing his arms back and forth just waiting for a ruling.
Dambrot was frustrated by the delay as he just wanted the game to continue.
Ultimately the substitution was not granted. Carry missed the final free throw and the referee waived off Fordham’s potential game-winning shot deeming it too late as the buzzer had already sounded. The fact that the shot missed proved irrelevant.
Prior to the handshake, a still angry Neubauer appeared to say something critical and pointed a finger at the official scorer, upset that his offensively-motivated substitution was not granted.
It is also quite possible that Neubauer was frustrated because his team played a good game against a frustrated and emotional Duquesne team ultimately falling a play or two short.
Though Dambrot will not appreciate it as he enjoys playing games as close together as possible, Duquesne has a week off before it will travel to play Rhode Island Wednesday evening.
Rhode Island was able to defeat Saint Joseph’s 71-61 Wednesday, though senior guard Jeff Dowtin was suspended for an NCAA violation playing in a charity game last summer. The suspension was passed along 90 minutes prior to tip-off.
Duquesne defeated Rhode Island 75-72 last season, but lost on the road in 2018 on a Stanford Robinson buzzer beater when the teams last met at The Ryan Center.
Here are the updated Atlantic 10 standings.