For the past few weeks, the Duquesne men’s basketball team has been ticked off and waiting for games to count again.
Needless to say, Montana got the memo after the Dukes emerged victorious by a 91-63 count Tuesday night at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
By all accounts, preseason polls mean next to nothing and largely are based on the previous season, or which Duquesne placed last, but there still is an ability to find use for them. For Joe Reece, that clearly was a mission accomplished.
“We saw those preseason polls and we were pissed,” he admitted. “We had a chip on our shoulder from jump because we felt as though we are way better than that. Everyday coach puts that on us at practice. They had us last. That just brings us fire, brings us energy and keeps us going.”
Duquesne played with a similar tenacity, playing noticeably faster pace. Passes consisted of purpose and though assist totals were not high, this did not do any justice to how the ball did not stick on any end of the court and led to higher-percentage shots.
Consistently players who had an edge to cut to the basket were able to advance the ball to seek the higher-percentage shot.
“All week we have been rehearsing and preparing for this game,” stated Reece. “We are trying to change and trying to do our best to start off strong. All week we have been trying to push the tempo and prepare for this game, and it showed.”
Though Duquesne got tired a bit in the second half, it was clear that Dambrot made a decision in regard to how many players would comprise the team’s rotation, with the magic number being 11.
Each player received a double-digit minute total and made several positive plays.
“(We’re) not going to win the league with five (players), but we can win it with 9-11 like VCU,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said. “Good teams have to be able to play fast, slow and a variety of ways and we are more equipped to do that.”
Dambrot elected to start Reece, who displayed an all-around game, Dae Dae Grant, who was perfect from the field while scoring 25 points, Tre Clark whose chaotic defense and shot making were on display, Tre Williams who ran the floor well and made timely shots and Quincy McGriff who won Dambrot over by scoring 20 of 24 points during 10 minutes of extra time in a scrimmage.
Additionally, Matus Hronsky played with a poise beyond his years in scoring 13 points. Hronsky, originally a George Washington commitment was an option after the Colonials opted to part ways with Jamion Christian.
Kareem Rozier ran the point and provided effortless leadership until he cramped up and his vocality extended to the bench.
R.J Gunn ran the floor well and made some timely plays. Austin Rotroff scored four points, including a basket where he made multiple pump fakes before muscling up for a layup and grabbed six rebounds in 11 minutes. Kevin Easley also offered six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
David Dixon continues to be a work in progress, though Dambrot is giving him the opportunity to learn on the court. Dambrot could be seen teaching his post player in between free throws.
Even if the game had been close, Dambrot stated that he would have gone with a nine-player rotation down the stretch, something which was far from the case a season ago.
“We’re super deep, our young core is talented,” Reece stated. “On and off the court we have a connection, we’ve been implementing brotherhood. Before everything started, we connected and clicked up early and it just shows on the court.”
SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND
In the past, Duquesne has shown the ability to use the diamond press, but usually this was more of a desperation defense. If Tuesday was any indication, this will become much more commonplace this season.
Duquesne made the adjustment following the first media timeout and got two quick turnovers and a deflection.
The defense was suffocating and that is without working too much on it.
“We’ve toyed with it in practice, but not a lot, but we were good at it,” Dambrot assessed. “We threw it out there and felt like they were playing with one ballhandler.”
Even in its infancy, the diamond press has a level of danger to it, that only becomes more legitimate with the team’s length and depth.
Dambrot also believed the press also helps Clark in that it assists his desire to run around on the defensive end.
“(We) have to keep ramping up our pressure,” he said. “If we can take people out of what they want to do I think we become a better defensive team.”
As dangerous as Duquesne was passing the ball, it was without Tevin Brewer who did not suit up for this game but has slowly been on the road to recovery since suffering severe complications resulting from an appendectomy.
Brewer has a clear gift in shooting the basketball, but his presence alone will help Duquesne elevate its assist totals.
“He’s the best passer on our team,” Dambrot said. “It’ll be a juggling act and we don’t know how that’s going to come along, but he’s going to be a good player for us this year.”
If social media is any indication, that return may already be a go, with #4 Kentucky the opponent on Friday, anywhere close to a full-strength Brewer will allow for a more complete measuring stick against a highly regarded opponent.
The post itself simply read “we back” with a 0 matching his uniform number and a blue heart.