James Leo | Staff Writer
Feb. 20, 2020
The Duquesne men’s basketball team is making a statement this year. Regardless of how their season concludes, the team is here to stay.
Head Coach Keith Dambrot is focused on establishing a winning culture at Duquesne, and he has a great opportunity to do just that. The Dukes play in the Atlantic 10, arguably the most competitive conference in the NCAA this year, and have played several teams that made recent tournament appearances.
Fellow A-10 members Saint Louis, VCU, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, Davidson and Dayton all have made the NCAA tournament within the last three years. The Dukes have proven their competitiveness again against these teams — they were victorious against Davidson; played tough against Saint Bonaventure and Dayton; and downed Saint Louis twice.
The Dukes also picked up three wins against non-conference teams that recently made the tournament: Lipscomb, Radford and Princeton. They even played West Virginia tough in an exhibition game in November; West Virginia is now ranked No. 17 in the nation.
“So there’s three parts to turning a program around,” Dambrot said. “The first part is to be consistently in the mix in games, so that you can win games. The next part is to become a championship level team, and the third part is to be a consistent championship level team.”
Duquesne’s program has certainly improved under Dambrot, and there is even more hope for the future.
“So we’re still in the consistently pretty good stage, but we haven’t shown yet that we’re championship level,” he said. “Once we become championship level, then we need to take the third step, which is very difficult.”
After the Saint Louis game, Dambrot saw his team take a big step forward.
“At some point you have to win those games, put your big boys pants on, and be a contender, not a pretender,” he said. “I felt like that was a big moment for us. Now, can we capitalize on it and do it again and again and again?”
If there’s one thing he preaches to his players, it is to never give up. The Dukes have staged several comebacks this year, turning blowouts into close contests.
“I think that’s the key in life, right? If you get punched in the stomach, in the face, in the head, how are you going to react?” Dambrot said. “Do you really have it, or are you going to put up the white flag? So, you know, we played two of the better teams in the league [Rhode Island and Dayton] … This is no different than any other high-quality league. If you’re 10-8, you’re pretty good. If you’re 11- 7, you’re a little better. Anything above that, and you’re a pretty good team. So, it’s all relative.”
Dambrot prepares his team for every opponent regardless of their record. Obviously, the tougher matchups garner more attention.
“What you gotta try to do is avoid losing to the 6-12, 5-14 teams. Then, you gotta sneak out some against the really good teams,” he said.
Another strategy Dambrot brought from his time at Akron is to play a wider variety of players. Many teams only play seven or eight guys, but he tries to play as many as possible.
“Well, I think there’s two parts: I think we won a lot of games at Akron because at the end of the game, most [teams] were playing eight, while we were playing 10 or 11. So at the end of the game, our bet- ter players were fresher than their better players,” he said. “The second part of it is that in order to win, you need to have great team comradery. When you’re only playing seven or eight guys, it’s difficult to have great team camaraderie, because those guys don’t feel a part of it”
“Those guys that I mentioned [Buckley, Rotroff, Miller] are some of the high-quality players on our team. I need to find ways to get those guys in the game.”
Recently, the Dukes pushed Dayton, ranked No. 5 in the country, to its limits in a 73-69 loss. Dambrot says he learned a lot about his team in that game.
“In my mind, we showed what we’re capable of, but we have to be more consistent,” Dambrot said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re consistently inconsistent. Our com- petitiveness was really good. We showed signs of what we have to do to have suc- cess, but we have to be more consistent.”
But, Dambrot has to remain hard on his guys for the team to improve.
“In order for us to take the next step, we can’t lose to Dayton at home,” he said. “But, you have to give our guys credit; we got smacked in the mouth, knocked down, wobbled 35 times, and then came back and made it a game. Give Dayton credit, too. They delivered a couple knockout punches and we didn’t go down.”
He echoed a similar theme after their recent loss to Saint Bonaventure.
“I give our guys credit. They fought when things didn’t go well,” Dambrot said. “We’ve shown we can play against top teams in our conference; I think Saint Bonaventure is one of the best teams in the league, from what I’ve seen.”
Dambrot felt the Dukes ran into a virtually unstoppable Bonnies team on Saturday afternoon.
“It was one of those nights we just couldn’t quite get it done. We tried; we really did,” Dambrot said. “We made a few undisciplined plays that hurt us, but over- all I can’t really complain with our guys. They tried, but we just couldn’t get it done … I don’t know how many games I’ve lost when we make 14 threes.”
Duquesne will have a second shot at Dayton when they face off this Saturday at 2 p.m at UD Arena.
Playing on the road is always tough, but the Dukes have proven and will continue to show that they are contenders in the A-10.