Close Games, Comebacks Defining Duquesne’s Season

Dambrot’s Dukes ready for St. Bonaventure rematch

Josh Rowntree
February 26, 2019 - 11:56 am
Duquesne Dukes head coach Frank Dambrot reacts on the bench against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first half at PPG Paints Arena.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Keith Dambrot has never seen anything like it. 

Duquesne’s men’s basketball coach, who has been coaching collegiate basketball since 1984 and is in his second year on the Bluff, is in the midst of a bizarre, intense season. 

Duquesne is currently sitting in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Atlantic 10 conference, with a record of 9-5 in the Atlantic 10 and 18-9 overall. A fine mark for one of the nation’s most inexperienced teams. 

But what makes Duquesne’s strong season so interesting is the amount of dramatic comebacks and close games the Dukes have been in.

Through its last 16 games, Duquesne has played in 13 games decided by six points or less, including four one-point games. 

“For us, especially, every game has been close,” Dambrot said Tuesday. “Whether we’re playing the perceived worst team in the league or the best team in the league.”

On top of the nightly tightness of games, Duquesne has also had to continually rally from large deficits to win. Seven times this year, the Dukes have rallied to win after being down double digits, including a 19-point hole against George Mason in Saturday’s 79-78 win.

“It’s a strange game, sometimes. Against George Mason, we’re trying pretty hard, we’re spinning our wheels on offense and they start making shots on us. When teams make shots, you fall behind. And when you don’t make shots, you fall behind.

“I’ve tried to be as level as I can with this group. What I do now is, I just remind them that we’ve been down this road before. Just hold the steering wheel tight, just maintain and chip away. We can come back.”

So now Dambrot’s challenge is to find a way to avoid the first-half letdown. 

“We have to play better defensively,” he said. “We’ve been able to turn people over a little bit, get out in transition some. And just, believe in ourselves, I think that’s the biggest thing. Belief is a funny thing.”

According to KenPom rankings, Duquesne is the nation’s seventh least experienced team in the nation. So perhaps there’s an element of not knowing any better. But with such a young group, fight is something that Dambrot clearly doesn’t have to cultivate as his team ages.

“I have this expression, and I believe this, and I come from a business background, so it’s a statistical expression that they’re all mutually exclusive events,” he said. “So every game is a mutually exclusive event. What happened in the past, may not effect the next game. What happens this year may not effect next year. A lot of it is so psychological.”

Psychologically, Dambrot’s players appear to have grown some early confidence, no matter the score.

“It’s a good thrill,” sophomore guard Frankie Hughes said. “We try to outscore our opponents so that we have a comfortable lead. It’s unfortunate that we’re always in a battle, always in a dog fight. 

“But on the other hand, if you look at it in a positive way, it’s a good thing. When we go into the tournament, if the games get rough, we’re going to be comfortable.”

One of Duquesne’s many close calls came three weeks ago against St. Bonaventure, a low-scoring- poor shooting, 51-49 win for the Bonnies at the Palumbo Center. Now the Dukes, Wednesday night, look for retribution against a team that, like Duquesne, is sitting at 9-5 in the conference. 

“I think the biggest thing, for us, is that we need to lock down defensively,” sophomore center Mike Hughes said. “We know that some teams aren’t going to be able to shoot well and there’s nights we aren’t going to be able to shoot well. So our defense is going to carry over into our offense.”

“It was as good of a game as we’ve played all year, defensively,” Dambrot added of the first meeting. “How you judge things, sometimes, is a matter of the beholder. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, right? So if we play a similar game defensively and a little better offensively, we’re going to win the game.”

Hear all of what Keith Dambrot had to say below.