PITTSBURGH — To say a win is a win is a cliche, but for a Duquesne came which has lost its last three games, it will take a victory of any kind.
Though there will be many critical of Duquesne’s 71-69 victory over La Salle Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena and despite that and several nitpicking media questions, coach Keith Dambrot reminded his players, exactly that, that this win is important and could be just what the team needs to get going again.
“I told them that a lot of people are going to quit on you, give up on you, it’s us and we on one side and them on the other,” he said. “When I got here, they were 3-15 and 10-22 and they would take that and run all the way to Fifth Avenue, Forbes Avenue, had a beer and been happy. We teased it, we’ve shown we can play with the big boys. So we did it to ourselves, now we have to be better and hold ourselves to a higher standard. We had two good days of practice, but it should have been a 15-point game. La Salle battled, they’re better than their record, they’ve just had some injuries.”
At the end of the day, regardless of the seeming myriad of issues that affected the team Sunday, some of which will be listed below, Duquesne is now a 16-5 basketball team.
“We were super high on this win because we lost three in a row, so to get this win and fight hard by any means, you know you’re going to be happy with the win,” Duquesne forward Marcus Weathers said.
LUCKY NUMBER 7?
Duquesne almost lost this game, with the outcome in serious doubt until the very end, but at halftime Dambrot seemed to sense the potential for trouble, but did not act on it.
“I told the coaches I was scared we’re not playing enough people, we’re going to get caught at the end because we’re tired,” he said. “We’re not physically mature stamina wise. I guess I was self-fulfilling in some ways. We won a lot of games because were playing 10-11 and they played seven. Seven isn’t good, I’m telling you it will catch us. We need to play nine at least, now I’ve got to do it. It’s kind of like I want to lose 10 pounds, but I can’t do it. I don’t have the discipline to do it, got to bite the bullet.”
On a few instances Duquesne has played eight in a game but this is the second time this season the Dukes have played seven. Predictably, going seven-handed the other time proved to be a near disaster as well as Duquesne needed overtime to defeat a Fordham team that has been at or near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 in the last three seasons.
Part of why Duquesne was short-handed was due to Austin Rotroff falling ill over night to the point that Dambrot would not play him and with Ashton Miller not making a basket since the second half of the team’s Jan. 22 road contest at Rhode Island.
Dambrot admitted that Duquesne makes mistakes when it gets tired and several miscues were made in the closing 10 minutes which only helped La Salle’s cause.
Given that this has been a quiet issue this season that Dambrot appears to be finally addressing is great, but now the test is whether he will act on it as there is just over a month left in regular season play.
“I just decided to go with the older guards,” said Dambrot. “We make mistakes when we get tired on both ends, unforced ballhandling. You’re better off playing the younger guards but you have to talk yourself into it.”
FINDING A BALANCE
By no means is this an attempt to pick on Mike Hughes, but his technical foul Sunday, his second in the past three games, was one which certainly did not help a shorthanded Duquesne team.
The technical foul was assessed by referee Tim Comer after Hughes used what appeared to be an expletive while expressing displeasure over a common foul not being called for his missed dunk.
Duquesne was up nine points at the time and Dambrot placed both hands on his head, a seemingly exasperated expression in the moment.
For Hughes it was his fourth foul of the game and with 5:47 remaining in regulation, he was sent to the bench.
Hughes toed the line towards receiving an earlier technical getting in the face in somewhat close proximity to a La Salle player and earlier he and Ed Croswell had to be warned after the former was called for a foul on what otherwise would have been a blocked dunk.
“I mean I love Mike Hughes, but do you have any advice, because I don’t know what the hell to tell him,” Dambrot said. “I told him before the game that two of those officials (Roger Ayers and Mike Roberts) have done Final Four games, so they’re not going to listen. He should’ve gotten T’d earlier in the game. He just couldn’t control himself. I got 14 technicals my first season as a college coach, so I couldn’t control myself either. Now I figured out it doesn’t do any good, so might as well sit there.”
Even Sincere Carry admitted that the team as a whole has to be more mature in situations such as those.
“Even if there was a bad call we have to be better at closing our mouths,” he said. “Whenever we do have one, we do a good job of staying poised and staying together whether it goes our way or not.”
For his part, Weathers stated it is normal for players to be chirping at each other but was unsure if the level to where it got today was necessary.
Now perhaps part of it also was a lesser crowd at PPG Paints Arena, listed at 2,450 which was a more polite crowd. Applause resembled golf claps and it allowed you to hear more on the court whether it was officials telling players to take it easy, play calls or the Duquesne bench yelling “kill” as it prepared to try and earn a third consecutive stop.
As far as how Dambrot views the whole thing with Hughes, he sees it as a double-edged sword. It is clear Hughes is very passionate on the court and his shot-blocking ability changes games, in fact it has changed many this season.
Hughes puts it ‘at least I care’ and no one can argue that. Dambrot wants people who care on his team, especially when compared to “deadheads”. Dambrot does not have to waste time and energy trying to motivate Hughes but it does raise other complications.
“At some point, you keep doing the same things and get the same results, you have to figure it out. He makes a great point (he cares) which he does. So do you discipline that? I don’t want to discipline him because he’s giving me good effort. I’ve got to keep teaching him.”
END OF THE GAME FOUL RAISES EYEBROWS
La Salle was in possession of the basketball as the game clock was set to expire. Determined to tie the game, the Explorers successfully created an open look but the shot did not drop.
Eventually David Beatty ended up behind the three-point line ready to try his luck.
All of a sudden the whistles blew and the debate began.
While it was clear that Carry fouled, two officials deemed it was on the floor. After discussing it, Ayers’s opinion won out and Beatty shot three free throws.
Ayers explained to Dambrot that he saw upwards motion which is why the free throws were awarded.
“The first two refs called it on the floor and the other ref said he shot,” Carry said. “It’s whatever, I can’t do anything about it. Our bench was saying to foul, it was a smart play to foul, I thought I got it before.”
Dambrot did confirm that the idea was to foul and opined that Carry got to Beatty before the shot was attempted but really he also found that his Duquesne Dukes butchered the sprint out and switched which led to the open look. Even in the previous possession, Duquesne allowed for a putback play which is when Hughes fouled out of the game.
“Those are judgment calls, we probably should have hit them earlier,” said Dambrot. “I wasn’t going to foul with 15 seconds left because we didn’t handle the ball well the whole game. It’s kind of a catch-22 we’re throwing it all around hell so I can’t foul there.”
Baylee Steele flirted with a double-double and finished with nine points and eight rebounds. It was clear he was engaged with the game from the moment he was rewarded for good spacing with a nice pass that he finished with a dunk. It was arguably Steele’s best effort since scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a Jan. 8 road win at Saint Joseph’s.
Dambrot admitted that it has been a tough stretch for Steele and the two met within the past few days.
“This is a relationship business, they are not going to war with just anyone anymore,” Dambrot said. “They have to at least respect you, they don’t have to like you, they have to know you care about them off the court or they’re not going to war. I told Baylee I feel badly he hasn’t played as well and I take responsibility for it but I still have to win games. We broke a little bread, laughed a little bit, still probably didn’t like me, but that’s the way it goes.”