In a season which has been more somber both due to health-related challenges, transfers and close games, the Duquesne men’s basketball team got to enjoy 40 minutes together as a unit.
Indeed Duquesne’s 86-62 triumph at Fordham Wednesday night saw 12 players appear including Noah Buono, Jaylen Cole-Williams and Jett Roesing, all of whom logged their first time on the court.
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“All of these close games are going to give me a heart attack one of these days,” freshman forward Chad Baker said. “It makes you not want to mess anything up because a turnover can change the game. It was really nice coming out here, having fun on the bench. Everybody on the team was happy so it felt great having a big lead.”
Fordham was a vulnerable team playing a day after Jeff Neubauer was fired. Even though the Rams appeared engaged, shots were not falling. Fordham only made one two-point shot in the opening half.
Dambrot knows recent history against Fordham led him to suspect another close contest which unquestionably left some nerves. Admittedly even he was surprised by such a dominating result.
With Duquesne back to its winning ways, it now will play a second consecutive contest that is quite winnable with a home contest versus Saint Joseph’s. Ryan Daly, the Hawks Atlantic 10 All-Conference guard has been out with an injury and it is unknown if he will be ready play as of this piece being written.
As it stands now Duquesne is one win under .500 in A-10 play and a win Saturday would bring some consistency and some momentum as February fast approaches.
“I’m proud of what our guys have done,” said Dambrot. “The one thing I can say is every single game we’ve played, we’ve tried our hardest. We haven’t been good every night but we try really hard. As long as we try really hard we’ll win our share of games. We still have a lot of things to clean up, but we made some strides tonight. Now can we do it the next game and every day in practice?”
• Dambrot sought a different look in the starting lineup and decided to go with an individual who Fordham most definitely did not scout and added integrity on the defensive end.
That individual was Mike Bekelja who just so happened to miss a month due to a stress fracture, yet here he was in Duquesne’s starting five.
“He’s like the tortoise and the hare,” Dambot said. “You don’t think he is very good, but he does a lot of winning things. He’s good on the ball defensively, is strong as an ox, gets the ball to the right place, shoots when he’s open, doesn’t take bad shots. The month off hurt him, he’s got to get in better condition.”
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 27, 2021
As Dambrot explained, Bekelja has had to work for everything. Whether he is hard on himself or truly believes it, Bekelja consistently stated that he is the worst basketball player in his family which includes two sisters and Sincere Carry, his brother.
Now Dambrot believes the hard work is going to help Bekelja become a really good player.
• After a disappointing game Saturday, Chad Baker was back in a big way Wednesday with his 23 points which included seven three-point baskets, both of which were career highs.
In earning these milestones, Baker joined Eric Williams Jr and Melquan Bolding as the third Duquesne freshman to make seven or more threes in a contest.
Dambrot stated he had spoken to Baker concerning his repeated penalizing whistles and there were steps that showed the now 21-year-old was channeling his emotion in a better way.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 28, 2021
It again comes down to Dambrot’s relationship-building abilities and there is a clear respect between the two.
“He’s been good with me,” Dambrot said. “He drives me nuts sometimes but he generally listens. He’s just scratching the surface right now. He should be the best defender, best passer, best ballhandler, best shooter and as crazy as it sounds, he’s underachieving. I have high expectations for talented people. When he finally decides to put everything he has into it, you’ll see something better than this. He has good instincts and he’s confident as hell.”
Earlier in his Duquesne tenure, Dambrot briefly teased putting Williams in the same sentence as prized-pupil LeBron James and again those two words were mentioned, something which caused Baker to bow his head down in disbelief.
“When I first got to Duquesne, Coach Dambrot asked if I wanted to be great,” said Baker. “I said ‘coach I left everything back to make it’. He told me he was going to be hard on me and I said do what you’ve got to do to take me to that next level. I’m going to take it because at the end of the day I’m going to get better and I can’t take it personal.”
• Speaking of comparisons, Dambrot had one more for Tyson Acuff who set a career high with 11 points.
“He reminds me a lot of when I had Charles Thomas who is now my assistant coach,” Dambrot said. “Carl was a little more ready to play than Charles but I knew Charles was going to be good. He cared about winning, cared about his teammates and had good ability. I believe that Tyson will be very similar to Charles.”