Las Vegas, Nev— Duquesne’s second half offensive cold spells and defensive play which coach Keith Dambrot considered below standard both thwarted its quest to earn an eighth consecutive victory.
Duquesne led by seven points with 10:53 remaining in the second half but was unable to make enough plays down the stretch in a 74-64 setback Saturday night against Southern Illinois at Orleans Arena.
“I thought we got a little frustrated and we didn’t make enough plays when it mattered at the defensive end,” Dambrot said. “Our bread and butter kind of failed us. Our last eight minutes we just didn’t defend well enough to win. If we don’t defend well, we don’t have enough pop offensively to withstand that.”
Offensively, Duquesne’s momentum was halted by a streak of 7:46 in which it did not convert any field goals from the field.
Duquesne had to grind to stay in the game after shooting 38.5% from the field in the first half, with the starting five going 6-for-19 from the field and a Mike Lewis II 3-point shot gave the Dukes its second lead of the game, with the first advantage totaling 1:36 of playing time.
“We had trouble scoring on the low box which makes it hard,” said Dambrot. “When you have trouble scoring on the low box and they’re playing Mike Lewis on every catch, so we just don’t have enough pop. You have to win more games 64-62 if it gets in the 70’s, we have a hard time.”
Despite the lengthy cold spell, Duquesne remained in the game, mostly due to Tarin Smith who scored a career-high 26 points on an 8-for-10 shooting performance and 9-for-10 effort from the foul line.
Stilll the effort to remain in the game offensively was tough as Lewis II was face-guarded the entire night with that three-point basket being his lone open look. Lewis II finished with 10 points.
Twice within the last 1:40, Duquesne cut the Southern Illinois lead to one point, both on plays made by Smith. Still Southern Illinois had just enough to pull ahead and Duquesne surrendered a 9-0 run in the final 1:27, though much of it came to foul shots when the Dukes could not make shots on offense.
“We just have to keep working with them and try to get them better,” Dambrot said. “Our play execution has to be better and we just have to have more juice when it matters. We make no excuses, we’ll be in a lot of games like that, we’ve just got to break through.”
Often Dambrot gives an opening statement which expresses his overall feelings, but after this loss, he was asked about how his players felt and used his answer as an opportunity to take responsibility for the loss.
“I think they’re upset,” he said. “They knew we had an opportunity to win and we just didn’t get the job done. The biggest thing is making sure we hold ourselves accountable and it’s all on me really. If Chas Brown doesn’t score around the rim, that’s not on him, that’s on me. If Jordan Robinson doesn’t hedge a ball screen, that’s not on him, that’s on me. The bottomline is, I’m going to be hard on them but I’m going to teach them how to play the right way and play with a winning mentality. Ultimately it’s on me, if they don’t get the job done it’s on me.”
Three to stew on
1. Perhaps the most noticeable thing in this game was the number four, as in four assists on 19 made field goals and four turnovers surrendered.
It still agitated Dambrot a good 20-25 minutes after the game ended as it repeatedly was mentioned in his interview.
“I think we have to be more efficient in a lot of areas and that will help us,” he said. “We have to start playing to our strengths which right now is rebounding. Four turnovers forced, that means we’re not aggressive enough. I think our guys wanted to win and tried to play the right way. We had them on the ropes and just didn’t finish.”
2. Jordan Robinson played 21 minutes and most nights this season, that will be ignored, not tonight.
Robinson through up at halftime of Friday night’s game and then went down to the floor in the closing seconds, walking off under his own power with a trainer to each side of him.
Dambrot praised Robinson’s first half but believed he “caved a little bit in the second half.” He finished with six points and six rebounds.
3. Perhaps the game changer in this one was Eric Williams Jr’s missed dunk with 7:38 remaining in the second half.
Duquesne was up four points at the time and Smith tried to alley oop the ball through traffic and Williams violently missed the dunk. Duquesne’s coaches all yelled in disapproval of the decision and Dambrot buried his face in his hands at the play.
It may not have seemed to be a big deal at the time but Duquesne still had momentum and this was the first true sign of that slipping away.
This sequence certainly was not lost on Dambrot.
“The missed dunk was a bad play,” he said. “I don’t know what that was but it’s just a losing play. That’s coaching, you can’t dunk it, you just have to lay the ball in.”
Assessing the non-conference schedule
Duquesne wraps up its non-conference slate 9-4 heading into a Christmas break of sorts.
This Duquesne team has found different ways to win and was able to use a portion of its schedule where the RPI of opponents was to its advantage and build a streak in the positive direction, to the tune of a seven-game winning streak.
“We improved,” Dambrot said. “We got a lot more work to do to weather the Atlantic 10. We were able to play competitively but we really have to play better if we want to win in the Atlantic 10.”
Duquesne has achieved this start to non-conference play with consistently reliable defense. Though Saturday night put a small crack in that resume, it is clear that Dambrot’s seemingly endless efforts to teach defense have paid off though the team is still not where he wants it to be.
Early in the season Duquesne had several injuries and also was without Kellon Taylor who was finishing out football season. During this time, it was common for Lewis, Smith and Rene Castro-Caneddy to play anywhere from 38-40 minutes a game and it proved to be exhausting at times.
Now the team has all of its players back who are eligible this season though not everyone is back to full strength yet.
The Atlantic 10 as a whole is an unknown and a lot of spots in the standings are up for grabs.
Duquesne has established itself as a rather young team with a core group of returners hungry to right what they felt was a wrong. Everyone has bought into Dambrot’s system and with the defensive standard set, Duquesne could be a tough out for several teams.
“We have to build the behavior and mentality that we have to be a great defensive team if we want to win championships,” said Dambrot.
Duquesne will open Atlantic 10 play Saturday with a home contest against Dayton. Dayton is led by coach Anthony Grant who is in his first season coaching his alma mater.
Dayton leads the overall series 52-23, including a 20-14 mark in Pittsburgh. Duquesne last beat Dayton at home Feb. 21, 2015 at PPG Paints Arena. This contest will be played at the Palumbo Center and the last time Duquesne won against Dayton there was Feb. 21, 2010.