PITTSBURGH — Down four points in the second half, the Duquesne men’s basketball team appeared to catch a break when Little Rock’s leading scorer Nikola Maric picked up his fourth foul, but instead the Trojans expanded upon their lead.
It was evident throughout Monday evening’s postgame Zoom call that Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot was disappointed and unsurprised with his team’s effort in a 76-66 Wade Houston Tipoff Classic loss to Little Rock, considering he felt the team’s practices were lacking.
Ultimately it came down to concerns Dambrot had during Friday afternoon’s media availability on energy, which is an issue that has affected teams across the country.
“I didn’t feel like we were in great condition most of the fall,” he said. “That’s what scared me about not having scrimmages or exhibition games, we just kind of died on the vine. I felt like our big guys had very little juice, they looked tired. We made mistakes with the ball in the first half, just a little disjointed. Not the end of the world, but we have a lot of work to do, we need to play.”
FOUR FRESHMEN ALL PLAY
Dambrot decided to go with a deeper bench as 12 players saw the court including Tyson Acuff, Toby Okani, Andre Harris and Chad Baker. Amari Kelly also briefly returned to the court, his first action since Mar. 6, 2019.
With the four freshmen, Dambrot stated the quartet showed glimpses, but ultimately played like newcomers. He did not blame the freshmen but seemed more disappointed with his returning players.
Senior forward Marcus Weathers scored 12 points which matched the team high, however Dambrot believed his energy was just okay. Weathers was not present for much of the spring and all of the summer because his mother was not feeling well and the time away from Duquesne affected his conditioning. His four rebounds were what puzzled Dambrot the most when assessing the final line.
Duquesne senior center Michael Hughes scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds, but did not get the start Monday afternoon. Austin Rotroff started in his stead.
On Friday, Dambrot stated that his team’s starting lineup would be fairly obvious if everyone acted right, but could also be guessed if not. It appears that the latter happened to be the case in this instance. Dambrot did not expand much on this other then saying the decision was an easy one.
Senior guard Tavian Dunn-Martin scored 11 points but also recorded seven turnovers and was called for a technical foul in the second half. Junior guard Sincere Carry scored 12 points but in a stretch of three games in five days, he played 37 minutes in the season opener.
“I didn’t want to play him that many minutes, but we were so damn bad I didn’t have many choices,” Dambrot said. “I had to keep him in the game to hang around in the game.”
It was clear that the defense could not get a stop in the second half as Little Rock shot 73.7% and then offensively, Duquesne had issues with the 1-3-1 zone defense.
Several times Little Rock would trap and Duquesne gave the ball away. In one instance, a Duquesne player passed the ball with no one on the left wing, which was where the throw went.
“We knew it was coming, we practiced it,” said Dambrot. “We just made mistakes. We had openings, had open looks just made mistakes unforced. We had trouble with the icing of the ball screens as well. We had a rough time of it, we couldn’t get it going.”
Offensively, Little Rock implemented a strategy several Atlantic 10 opponents successfully used against Duquesne last season which involved doubling the post which forced the Dukes to fire from three-point range, where they were 7-for 29. Duquesne also had nine assists on 22 made baskets and were nearly doubled up, 46-24 in the paint.
The more the game continued, it became clear that Little Rock had already played twice.
“We really didn’t have any answers,” Dambrot said.
GAME ON, BUT HOW MANY MORE?
Despite Sunday night’s UNC Greensboro-Winthrop match being cancelled, Dambrot at this moment anticipates both games being played.
“I think Winthrop’s down one guy or two guys, which I don’t really know how the rules work,” he said. “Evidently there’s different rules for every different team. If you test positive, I assume you can’t play, but they had positive tests and are going to play.”
Most recently Gonzaga, the top-ranked team in the country, elected to play despite positive COVID-19 tests, a decision which certainly received many of opinions. As of this moment, Duquesne will move forward with playing both of these teams and currently that will conclude the team’s non-conference schedule, though it will look for more opportunities to play.
“We’re working on it but we need to play,” said Dambrot. “We can see the rust, it wasn’t a very good performance at all. I get it and we’re experienced, but you still have to have energy.”
As far as reports go for a contest with Notre Dame, Dambrot did mention a Dec. 4 date which is impossible given that Duquesne will still be playing in the Louisville bubble on that day.
“We’re calling everyone in the country but not that I know of unless someone knows something I don’t know,” Dambrot said of the rumor.