Scoring depth, defense hamper Duquesne men as they prepare for A-10 stretch run
Trying to figure out what went wrong at Duquesne is not difficult.
Start with a first-year coach who didn't inherit a deep roster. No need to look much further.
That's probably the chief reason the Dukes have lost seven of their past nine games going into their rematch Wednesday night against St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y.
“I don't think there's any scientific explanation,” coach Keith Dambrot said. “We hit a streak where we played really good (starting 13-5), and some of the rest of the league wasn't playing very good. And then we came back to the mean, and so we haven't been able to win.
“Simple as that. We just have to figure out ways to win.”
The major hurdle might be the unequal distribution of scoring ability.
Duquesne's four guards are among the best in the A-10. Mike Lewis, Eric Williams, Rene Castro-Caneddy and Tarin Smith have scored 76.1 percent of the team's points. If opponents stop them, most of the time, they stop the Dukes.
Dambrot didn't mind that the four guards took 60 of Duquesne's 71 shots Saturday at Saint Joseph's in an 82-75 loss. They missed 39 of them — Lewis was 0 for 11 — but Dambrot didn't think they shot too much.
“With the dynamics of our team, who else is going to shoot?” he said. “We only have four guys who can shoot it. Usually, when your best guys shoot it a lot, that's what you want.
“If there is anybody else who thinks they can shoot it, I don't know who that is because we haven't shown it yet.”
Those remarks might sound harsh, but Dambrot said he likes his players and the way they have worked for him. He pushed them hard in practice Tuesday, even running among them during fast-break drills.
To an outsider, Dambrot might have looked and sounded mad, but Castro-Caneddy knew better.
“I think more just intense,” he said. “Just making sure we're on top of everything, paying attention to details and playing hard. He repeats that every day.”
Before the start of the season, the Dukes were picked to finish last in the 14-team conference by a vote of conference coaches and reporters. They head into the game with St. Bonaventure tied for eighth.
“We're better (than 14th) in some areas,” Dambrot said. “When we have trouble guarding, we're not better than 14th.”
Defense has been an issue for the Dukes, who have held opponents under 70 points only once in the past 11 games. And that was on the road against 18th-ranked Rhode Island (21-4, 13-1), projected as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
Funny thing: The Dukes (15-12, 6-8) probably played their best against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure (20-6, 10-4) — the first- and second-place teams in the A-10 — but lost both by three points on buzzer-beaters.
“Our guards are working so hard to create opportunities on offense that by the time the game is at crunch time, we're a little dead on our feet,” he said.
Dambrot is not satisfied with 15 victories, even though it's five more than the Dukes claimed last season. But they're 0 for 4 in February.
“You never want to limit yourself, but in this job, you have to be realistic or you'll drive yourself crazy,” he said. “Is 15 wins good? Pretty good for where we were, but it's not where I want to be. I can't accept that.”
When Rhode Island's Danny Hurley and St. Bonaventure's Mark Schmidt were first-year coaches at those schools, they won eight games each.
“The only way people win 18 or 20 or win championships in their first year is if they inherit a championship-quality team,” Dambrot said. “We didn't. You can't make them something they're not.
“I can brow-beat them and beat them down, but all I care about is whether they get after it every day. They're good people, and they try hard every day.”