Struggling Dukes winless in conference

Mary Genrich | Staff Photographer | Jimmy Clark III finishes off the glass for 2.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

A pair of gut-wrenching losses have left Duquesne staring up at the rest of the Atlantic-10 Conference.

Duquesne lost to Dayton on Friday, 72-62, in front of Cooper Fieldhouse’s first sellout since 2011, before a last-minute loss to Richmond on Tuesday night. The latter game was marred in controversy when Head Coach Keith Dambrot was incensed at officials missing his timeout calls on a scramble with 1:31 remaining, and then calling a ticky-tack foul against Kareem Rozier on the ensuing possession.

He pulled no punches as he addressed the media following the game.

“You’re gonna hear the truth now. This may cost me a lot of money but [expletive] it.”

David Dixon was passed the ball on the inbound. Dambrot recognized Dixon wasn’t his most sure-handed player and attempted to call time, which would have given his team a chance to regroup and try again on offense. The referee didn’t acknowledge Dambrot, and Dixon turned the ball over.

“Every referee in the country knows in the last two minutes the coach can call a timeout. I called it twice. He didn’t respond to either one of them,” Dambrot said, “We should have won the game. But you can’t miss a timeout call. I don’t give a damn.”

Dambrot still acknowledged that his team’s own shortcomings in the final minutes didn’t help much.

“We had them on the ropes,” Dambrot said. “Our guys showed that they’re a good team, they just couldn’t finish the job.”

The missed calls weren’t the Dukes’ last hope, however. Trailing by 2, Jimmy Clark III lunged for the basket and was wrapped up and fouled with 3.5 seconds left.

The career 71% free-throw shooter went to the line with a chance to tie the game, but he missed the mark on both shots. His half-court heave at the buzzer was no good too. He was unable to add to his team-leading 16 points.

Forty-five minutes after the game, the senior guard was back at the same spot on the charity stripe, draining shot after shot in a nearly empty gymnasium.

The loss puts Duquesne in last place of the conference, still searching for their first win. After such a promising start in the non-conference schedule, the Dukes will look to salvage their season. Dambrot acknowledged that their fate in March now relies solely on their performance in the conference tournament.

“We weren’t winning the regular season anyway. We got off to a rough start,” he said. “We just have to get better and better and better and win the damn tournament.”

Duquesne had led Richmond for over three-quarters of the game and did so without their leading-scorer Dae Dae Grant. According to Dambrot, he’s in concussion protocol after a “freaky” injury during a walkthrough prior to the Dayton game. After a surprisingly poor performance that saw him held scoreless until the game was out of reach, Grant started showing symptoms of a head injury over the weekend.

With Grant out, walk-on freshman guard Jake DiMichele earned the first start of his career. He had recorded 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting against Dayton. He cooled off against Richmond, finishing with 3 points, and a -9 plus/minus in the second half.

The loss to Dayton was less sour. Dayton is the consensus top team in the league, and its win over the Dukes propelled them to the 21st spot in the national rankings. Their center, DaRon Holmes II, is projected to win A-10 Player of the Year, and his recent performances have boosted his stock for the NBA Draft in June. Despite Dayton’s stature, Duquesne was projected higher than the Flyers in several polls over the last few months. It was a measuring-stick game for the Dukes, and they came up woefully short.

“I’m not quitting. I will battle to the bitter end,” Dambrot said. “And I think we have a team that can win. We just haven’t yet.”

Tuesday also saw a significant change to Dambrot’s starting lineup. After a strong performance against Holmes, Dusan Mahorcic was elevated to a starting role, while the struggling Chabi Barre came off the bench. He used his massive frame to drive close to the rim but struggled mightily with his finishing and wound up 2-of-11 from the field.

“We’re going to have some miserable guys. Let’s be real about it,” Dambrot said in regard to balancing playing time. “It’s unfortunate, but we’re not really sure yet.”

“It’ll be a change. We’ll be fine. We’re getting there,” said sophomore captain Kareem Rozier. “We’re taking huge steps, game by game, we’re just not coming out with wins.”