The Duquesne Men’s Basketball Team fought valiantly against a Richmond squad picked second in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, but that effort soon gave way to reality, namely a 74-57 setback Tuesday night, good for its sixth consecutive defeat.
Right now, Duquesne has one win in conference play to its name and by coach Keith Dambrot’s own words is just not a good team, or at least not championship quality.
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Last season, Duquesne faced this same Richmond team in the Atlantic 10 Championship and played with conviction, but without fear.
This year’s team, by design, is far different from that one, though by no means was Dambrot expecting a team struggling to stay healthy and find results.
At least Tuesday night, Duquesne showed fight and refusal to get up, but even then, the body language resembled defeat with each of the seven three-point baskets Richmond buried in the second half.
Tuesday’s effort was a noticeably better one after Saturday the team consistently did not run out sets, did not get down on defense, lost practically every hustle plays and ultimately appeared to give up.
From the beginning it appeared to be a different Duquesne in that both Tyson Acuff and Toby Okani both started, replacing Leon Ayers III and Jackie Johnson III in the lineup.
Following Saturday’s loss to Saint Louis, Dambrot talked about making winning plays and that he would play those who were likeminded. Whether this was a message to be sent or he liked how those two would matchup with Richmond in particular is up in the air.
Ayers was someone Dambrot has wanted to get going this season but has not been consistently able to get going. If this was an attempt to send a message and see how he would respond to a challenge, the results were mixed.
Johnson has not reached double figures in four of the last five games as he appears to be scouted differently and while at times, he has received less of a chance than other starters, Dambrot has repeatedly stated that there is still plenty for him to learn.
Tre Williams was effective in stretches in the first half against Grant Golden as two of his three baskets came with Mounir Hima guarding him. Even still, Golden, an all-conference type of player played 22 minutes, a sign that Richmond had the game well in hand.
Where does Duquesne go from here?
It is hard to say that Dambrot is sure given he has subbed players, went with different starting lineups and in Saturday’s press conference did not directly respond to a reporter’s question concerning a potential switch to a zone defense.
In the past, Dambrot has gone with “desperation defenses” for short stints, but never permanently. It appears that with an eight-player rotation that he is just trying to get those on the court to focus on principles, but from an offensive standpoint that has not worked as evidenced by the Dukes not eclipsing 61 points since Jan. 12.
Dambrot himself will admit that the team he had his first season which included a few inherited players and others that were quickly recruited, had more experience going for it.
Now Duquesne has no margin for error, something Dambrot takes responsibility for because he is the one that pulled the plug on the product. He potentially could have had his twin towers of Mike Hughes and Marcus Weathers back, but both transferred.
Tavian Dunn-Martin was initially coming back in a video produced by the university itself, but all of a sudden, he was gone too.
Of course, Sincere Carry and Lamar Norman Jr transferred in the middle of whatever you want to call the 2020-21 campaign. Chad Baker, Andre Harris and Amari Kelly all are gone as well.
By all accounts, this year’s Dukes were very upbeat and optimistic about its chances, with Dambrot very optimistic, but record wise it just has not worked out this season.
“I feel bad for the Duquesne fans, I owe them more than that,” Dambrot said. “I rebooted it and when you reorganize a major corporation, you never know how long it’s going to take. I know people don’t like hearing that, but I never said it would take seven years to turn this around. We turned it around year two or three but didn’t quite get over the pedestal. We have to decide how to get us over the hump again.
There have been and undoubtedly will continue to be growing pains with this Duquesne team which is still has 10 A-10 contests to play and a George Mason game which could be rescheduled.
This season has been one that Duquesne has had to take several punches to the mouth and now has shifted focused to small wins inside of a game to try and get a collective victory, but Dambrot praised the school for understanding what is being accomplished, or at least attempted to be.
“That’s all you can ask with the people you work for, believe me, they could get skittish. I get it,” said Dambrot. “I wouldn’t even blame them to be honest with you. That’s what this world is, a results-driven business.”
With there being so much season remaining Dambrot believes his team still could win a couple of games in a conference tournament setting, but there is still a ways to go to reach that.
Finding improvements and wins will be challenging, as Duquesne will search for wins at VCU and Dayton, both difficult places to play, in the next eight days.