PITTSBURGH– As Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot took to the PPG Paints Arena podium following a 70-67 loss Wednesday to George Washington, he started his opening statement, the normally open-book Dambrot was a very quick read.
“I better watch what I say because I am frustrated,” he said.
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It was a line which the Duquesne feed did not use in its press conference video, but one which perhaps will strike with a fan base that earlier in the season experienced those emotions losing to Massachusetts and now even more so as the 1,934 in attendance were quiet for a majority of Wednesday’s game.
“I am frustrated our guys and for the fans we just haven’t quite been able to get over the hump,” said Dambrot. “George Washington played well and used the clock. We just couldn’t come back. When things went poorly it magnified.”
Duquesne’s schedule to end the regular season is unforgiving and this was probably the game several fans counted on being a win.
The rest of the schedule breaks down as follows: a road game at #5 Dayton Saturday, a road game at St. Bonaventure Wednesday, a home game against George Mason next Saturday at Robert Morris, at VCU Mar. 3 and one final game at PPG Paints Arena Mar. 6. Of those games, the George Mason game will be viewed by Duquesne’s fans as the most winnable, though Wednesday proved that is far from a guarantee.
Duquesne got off to a strong start and simply allowed 70 points to one of the slower-paced offenses in the conference, which is not a good sign.
Considering that Duquesne had faced George Washington once already, it understood what it was in for, though it was not as much of a dose of Jamison Battle, though he certainly had a part in deciding this game.
Arnaldo Toro played his third-highest minutes total of the season and most since Dec. 7 with 33:22. Toro came off the bench, though he started on previous GW teams under then-coach Maurice Joseph, so it was not as if Duquesne was foreign to the Puerto Rican’s abilities. Even after the game, a contest in which Toro accumulated 16 points and 14 rebounds, Dambrot expressed an understanding of the center’s abilities even if he played far more than expected.
With Toro producing, it opened up GW’s three-point shooting, of which it recorded nine triples on the evening, seven of which came in the second half.
Maceo Jack recorded four of his own in the second half and even when making a dramatic late-game run, Duquesne forgot to defend Armel Potter, a 25% three-point shooter and that alone was the difference on the scoreboard.
“We made it a big emphasis to guard the three-point line and I don’t think we necessarily did a good job tonight,” redshirt junior forward Marcus Weathers said.
“We just looked like we were a step slow half of the time,” Dambrot added.
Duquesne was able to effectively utilize a diamond press at the end of the game which gave a young GW team fits but it was not enough. The Potter three was a backbreaker, but so was a missed five-seconds call and a foul call on Lamar Norman Jr. Those plays are all ones which Dambrot firmly believes had they gone Duquesne’s way would have equated to a win.
“It is defensive lapses to be honest,” redshirt junior Michael Hughes offered in summarizing the game. “We just have to put 40 together. We have to find some type of motivation to make you go a little harder. We have to turn it around, there are no ifs, ands or buts. At this point of the year, we need more.”
HALFTIME PEP TALK
As Duquesne went to the locker room down three points, there appeared to be a few smiling faces which seemed bizarre since the Dukes opened to a 20-11 lead, representing itself as aggressive on both ends on the floor, only to be losing.
Hughes opted to try and take control of the locker room and spoke to everyone.
It should not come as much surprise as Hughes was frequently asking the bench to make more noise to support those on the floor in addition to routinely being the first to a teammate whether it was congratulating or consoling him.
Hughes was Duquesne’s clear leader in a game where it definitely needed a spark and he gave it his best shot.
“It’s all about holding each other accountable,” he said. “We know what we want to achieve, so if you hold someone accountable, they’ll give you more.”
It was clear that Hughes was modest as it was Marcus Weathers who brought up the former’s speech. Hughes would only go as far as to explain that his job was to “bring motivation”.
Though Duquesne scored first in the half, the momentum was shortlived as GW quickly regained its composure.
“He tried, I give him credit, he tried to rally the troops,” said Dambrot.
Though Hughes’s efforts seemed to have mixed results, it not only earned him praise from Dambrot it appears to have been heard by his teammates as Weathers stated it helped the team.
END OF GAME DECISIONS
It is hard not to talk about this game without discussing Duquesne’s last two offensive possessions, which both will fall under a microscope, especially given the loss and the narrow margin of defeat. This of course does not count Hughes’s desperation half-court heave, which did not beat the buzzer. Really Hughes could not have done anything with the second remaining after Toro missed his second free throw.
Down three points with 35 second remaining, Sincere Carry tired to size up his defender and fired a three-point shot. At this point, 24 seconds remained, meaning it was not a long possession.
On the Duquesne bench, Charles Thomas, not only one of Dambrot’s assistants, but also someone who enjoyed a professional career including time in the NBA voiced his displeasure at such a quick three-point shot, when a two-point shot to extend the game was the more viable option.
Dambrot and Weathers both offered polite disagreement.
“I think initially when Sin took his three, it was a good shot,” Weathers said. “So there weren’t really any complaints there about the shot he took.”
Toro grabbed the rebound for GW and was immediately fouled. Toro was unable to make either free throw, meaning with 22 seconds remaining, Duquesne had second life.
This time, Duquesne held onto the ball before Weathers attempted to drive the lane. The whistle came signifying a foul, but then Weathers saw the scoreboard and that three seconds remained.
“As far as me trying to get to the rim, I was just trying to get a foul, stop the clock and keep the game close,” he said.
Mission accomplished. Or was it?
“We just held it too long,” said Dambrot. “Just go, you have to do something. I think sometimes guys feel like they have to shoot the three when they don’t have to. I didn’t mind the first possession as much as the second.”
After Weathers made the first two cut Duquesne’s deficit to two points, the Dukes used their final timeout. The decision was a bit of a head scratcher, since Weathers already knew that he was going to have to miss the second free throw, but Dambrot was not going to leave PPG Paints Arena with a timeout still in his pocket.
“As soon as I got the ball to just shoot it as quick as I could,” Weathers said. “I tried to make it a reboundable ball, it just didn’t happen that way.”
Though Dambrot outlined three key reasons in the late charge why Duquesne fell short, perhaps the entire final 35 seconds would be one giant mulligan, regardless of whether or not you agree with the heat-check style three-point shot.
Of course hindsight is 20/20.