DAYTON– Once again, the Duquesne men’s basketball team earned a moral victory when it visited fifth-ranked Dayton, but the 80-70 setback was that, a first-half lead that ultimately did not hold up.
“We certainly aren’t scared,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said. “We went to West Virginia and weren’t scared, we went to Saint Louis and weren’t scared and same with Rhode Island. We may not have played good enough, but we weren’t scared. A lot of people when you see all of those fans, you get timid. You can’t play a good first half, play a bad second half and blame it on being timid. We just didn’t play well.”
Though the lead pinballed back-and-forth in the first half, it appeared that Duquesne was making more plays and overall
“They just came out with a lot of energy,” Dayton redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin said of Duquesne. “We came out slow and didn’t find our rhythm. We weren’t playing as a team.”
It got to the point where Toppin admitted that Trey Landers admitted that his coach, Anthony Grant was the hardest he was on the team all season long.
“Maybe they felt it was a chewing out, I was just being honest with what I see,” said Grant. “I wanted us to be accountable for what happened in the first half and make a choice.”
Regardless of what the intent was, it was a different Dayton team in the second half and Duquesne did not have the answers to match up.
All season long, Dambrot has discussed alternating between massaging his players and laying into them,, but Saturday, there was little doubt which direction he would go.
“I called timeouts first to quell it, two quick ones,” he said. “There’s 13,000 people in the stands, do you think it does any good to yell at your guys at that point? It wasn’t like we weren’t trying, we just didn’t play good enough. I’m not going to pile on them, I’m going to get them going, maybe run a play to get them going.”
Indeed Dambrot was quick to bump fists with his team after key defensive stops or go over to a player after a difficult stretch, comfort them, offer advice and pat them on the back after.
Despite the loss, Dambrot remains optimistic, trying to get his team ready for another big game as it travels to St. Bonaventure and has a chance to avenge an earlier-season setback.
“My job is to make them better every day,” said Dambrot. “I get upset when we don’t win, but ultimately I won’t get down. We’re just at the beginning of this thing. I don’t want any moral victories, but we were there. I don’t think anyone has beat our brains in. We get tired and I think it’s pretty obvious we get tired.”
Duquesne came into this game with good model for how it wanted to defend Dayton.
The Duquesne staff watched Dayton’s Tuesday night clash against VCU and saw ways it could find success against the Flyers, namely trying to limit handoffs and fluidity.
“That first half we were feeling really good,” redshirt junior Marcus Weathers said. “We came out and defended pretty well and scored the ball too.”
Though Dayton shot better in the first half, it really was just Landers and Toppin who got it going. Jalen Crutcher did not score in the first half and Dayton’s bench was held to six points.
Following last year’s loss at Dayton, Dambrot stated that Duquesne was comprised of a lot of players the Flyers did not want which put an even bigger proverbial chip on the Dukes collectives shoulders.
Being from Akron, Dambrot frequently recruits in Ohio and seven of his 15 players on the roster are either from or previously played in the state. Clearly there was a sense of urgency Saturday afternoon.
“I feel like every game is a big game and this is a top-five team in the country which makes it even more important,” said Weathers.
For the entire first half, the officiating crew, which consisted of Leslie Jones, Trey Styons and Jeff Pon were willing to allow for aggressive play which perhaps was a reason why there were 12 ties and six lead changes in the first half.
It appeared that the aggressive play seemed to tilt things in favor of Duquesne. Though officials certainly are not trying to entertain fans, the 13,407 in attendance seemed to largely enjoy the style of play on the court, even if the overwhelming majority did not appreciate the halftime score.
In the second half, three fouls, all drawn by Ryan Mikesell in the first 1:20 of play seemed to turn the game. In total, Mikesell drew six fouls, each earned in the second half.
“It started with him attacking,” Grant said. “He drew three fouls and set the tone from an aggressiveness standpoint. The rest of our guys then kicked in and defensively we were very good in the second half which kickstarted everything.”
Though Duquesne was not as revealing in relation to the foul calls, Weathers did admit that it made the task all the more difficult.
“It was tough because some of the fouls were ticky-tack fouls and those add up towards the end of the game,” he said. “It makes winning on the road that much more difficult.”
Immediately after the fouls, Mikesell was rewarded with a wide open look, perhaps an overcompensation to avoid getting in further trouble. Those open looks soon became contagious which got Jalen Crutcher among others going.
While Duquesne certainly had difficulties on both ends of the floor in the second half, those fouls quite possibly changed the course of the game as it was clear that aggressive play would not be so loose which helped tilt the pendulum in Dayton’s direction, something Dambrot seemed to be aware of by calling two early timeouts.
Both coaches appeared less than pleased in different spots with how the game was called in the second half with Dambrot being so animated at the under-four media timeout that Tavian Dunn-Martin and a couple of Duquesne staffers had to hold him back.
With four regular season contests remaining, Duquesne will be looking to get some momentum prior to the Atlantic 10 Championships, but again, that starts with being a more consistent team.
“We’ve just been consistently inconsistent,” said Dambrot. “We’ve shown we can play with the good teams in the league but in order to be championship quality, you have to be more consistent.”
NOT CONSISTENT ENOUGH
Ultimately, Duquesne’s biggest issue may have been something that has affected the team for several games now, it has not been able to put a consistent 40 minutes of basketball together.
When Dayton made its second-half run, Duquesne was unable to keep up as the fouls and empty possessions quickly added up.
“A lot of it was transition and they got that going,” Weathers said. “They made a couple of threes and we knew Jalen Crutcher would come and be aggressive in the second half. We tried to weather the storm as much as possible but it is hard when you are not being consistent at the right moments.”
From the beginning of the second half, when Maceo Austin lost possession on a jump ball, to Dayton’s ability to draw fouls and string shots together, it was clear Duquesne was unable to get much going, even with Dambrot frequently making substitutions.
As Dambrot stated, his team is going to have a difficult time winning if it concedes 80 points, which is exactly what happened, although some of that was inflated due to a trapping press towards the end of the game.
“We went through stretches where we couldn’t score,” said Dambrot. “They took advantage of it and won the game. We know they are a spurty team, so if you don’t match their ability to score, you’re not going to win. We showed good fight and togetherness but did not make enough in that one stretch.”