It is clear after two games, that the Duquesne Men’s Basketball team is searching in multiple ways whether it is lineups, shots to fall with some consistency and playing a complete game.
Both contests saw a first half that left a lot to be desired and Saturday, Duquesne trailed Hofstra by 18 after 20 minutes.
Anyone that has followed Duquesne in the Keith Dambrot era, understood that an 18-point halftime deficit does not automatically equate a loss, as the Dukes have weathered many similar storms before, but in Saturday’s 73-63 defeat, not enough went their way.
“Obviously we didn’t play good in the first half, but I give our guys credit, they battled hard in the second, we didn’t make enough shots to win,” Dambrot said. “You have to make an open one when you’re coming back and we couldn’t. You don’t win many games when you shoot 3-for-24 from three.”
Duquesne is still experimenting to an extent, a lot of which was seen in the first half.
Jackie Johnson III made a basket early in his appearance but could not string much after and once again did not play in the second half.
Davis Larson was a -7 in less than five minutes and Darlinstone Dubar took him to school on a layup, letting him know about it immediately after.
Mounir Hima was again on the court for two minutes and appeared to lose his man when he tried to play defense closer toward the top of the key, but was bailed out by an errant pass.
Duquesne’s bench did outscore Hofstra 16-2, however Tre Williams was held to nine points, Toby Okani was held off the scoreboard and the Dukes lost control of the game.
“We got ourselves in trouble offensively,” said Dambrot. “There’s only so many times you can come down on defense and not score. If you don’t score then mentally it takes a toll on you. We did it to ourselves, we were self-inflicted. We rushed, played one-on-one, didn’t move the ball. We looked like an inexperienced team and we got ourselves in trouble, and then defensively we collapsed because of it.”
Of course, Duquesne is not at full strength yet and is playing with the cards it has been dealt, but it was clear its full-court defensive focus proved tiring and even in the second half, the Dukes brought the contest to within one possession and had an open three-point look, which sailed wide of target.
It was clear that the proverbial horses which got Duquesne back in the game were tired, and there just were not enough answers to change that narrative.
“We had to sub again and got in trouble,” Dambrot admitted. “We made turnovers in the last 8-to-10 minutes that killed us. We came back and made some dumb turnovers and it hurt us, when you’re coming back, you can’t do that.”
The postgame conversations were far from negative despite the result, something which Kevin Easley noted.
His optimism towards Duquesne’s potential success was clearly not shaken after Saturday’s result.
“We took this loss and I really feel like we learned after the game,” said Easley. “Coach kept preaching this was early but we have to get better, and we will. I really have faith in this group.”
BEKELJA CHANGES GAME
Down 18 points at halftime, Dambrot went to his not-so-secret SOS in Mike Bekelja in an attempt to change Duquesne’s fortunes in the contest and immediately the results paid dividends.
Zach Cooks, who scored 20 points in the first half was held to nine in the second half, though at least one of those baskets was not on Bekelja.
By placing Bekelja on Cooks, it allowed for Primo Spears to focus his efforts more on Aaron Estrada and utilize more energy towards other avenues.
“It (let me) get in the lane offensively and hold my fatigue,” Spears said. “Mike, I know his plus/minus is probably out of this world. I feel like Mike is a big piece for us with his on-ball pressure and his lack of mistakes. Offensively he doesn’t try to do anything he can’t do.”
For the record, Bekelja’s plus/minus was not “out of this world” Saturday, but at +8, he was the only Duquesne player to have a positive figure.
Dambrot concurred that Bekelja was a game changer and again named him the team’s best on-ball defender.
“We found out some things again tonight, where he really helped us defensively and clamped (Cooks) down,” said Dambrot. “Bekelja did a really good job on him and changed the game.”
ROTROFF’S RETURN HELPS FRONT COURT
After possibly not being back until January with a foot injury, Austin Rotroff returned to the court on a minutes count.
Rotroff played approximately six minutes and scored four points, converted two and-one shots which fired both him, and a student section which exceeded 500 fans, up.
Dambrot told media after the game that Rotroff was named the captain and both his and R.J. Gunn’s maturity will be needed, especially for a ship he stated would be rocky and not completely smooth sailing.
“Austin is top of the line as a human being so whenever you coach a guy like that, you root for him to do well,” Dambrot said. “He’s had a bunch of injuries and never been able to fulfill his potential because of those injuries. He doesn’t care about anything but the team. He’s a good person and he’s going to be a good player. His career isn’t over yet. He’s capable of being a good player for us.”