Keith Dambrot says young Duquesne will test his patience
Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot’s biggest complaint about his players involves something they can’t control. No one controls the day they were born.
Duquesne has a young team — all but two of them are under 21 years old — and most of its time together was spent early this season, winning four of its first six games.
Only three lettermen return from last season, putting the Dukes 343rd of 353 schools in Kenpom.com’s experience category.
“It’s a young group. It’s going to test every ounce of patience that I have,” Dambrot said. “It’s still a group that can win.”
Perhaps the most challenging test of that statement to date comes at 7 p.m. Wednesday when Duquesne meets Marshall at Palumbo Center. The Thundering Herd (5-2) are unranked, but return four of five starters who led their 81-75 upset of No. 4 seed Wichita State in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Senior guards Jon Elmore (21.4 points per game) and C.J. Burks (18.9 ppg) lead Marshall in scoring.
Both teams are trying to recover from two losses in their past three games. Marshall is 18th in the nation in scoring (87 per game), but it has allowed 205 points while losing to Maryland and Ohio. Duquesne tested the ACC and lost 67-56 at Notre Dame and 74-53 to Pitt at PPG Paints Arena.
Dambrot said his players had no trouble setting aside the Pitt loss and preparing for a stretch of seven consecutive home games that runs from Wednesday through New Year’s Eve.
“I’m sure it’s hard on them, but you know how kids are,” he said. “Once it’s over, it’s over. There’s nothing you can do about it. They don’t hold onto it as long as the adults. That’s the modern generation.”
How about their 60-year-old coach?
“I wasn’t too good on Saturday (the day after the Pitt game), but I hid it. I stayed away from people,” he said.
Dambrot said the final score of the Pitt game was “misleading” because Duquesne trailed by only six with 8 minutes, 3 seconds left. Also, starting forward Marcus Weathers, who is averaging 8.4 points and 6 rebounds, was out with an illness.
But the Dukes scored only 53 points and committed 22 turnovers, both record numbers for the team in two seasons under Dambrot.
“(Pitt) went 2 for 14 to start the second half, and we lost ground,” he said. “When teams go 2 for 14 to start the second half, and you’re not in the lead, you got issues.”
Duquesne’s 33.3 shooting percentage could be a product of growing pains for a team Dambrot is fearing.
“It’s not easy on any of these guys,” he said. “We have some immaturities that we’re dealing with. When things don’t go well, guys sulk. Handling adversity, handling prosperity. They don’t act like 23-year-olds. They haven’t been in a lot of big games.
“When things go poorly, you have to fight harder, and when things go well, you have to fight harder because the tendency, human nature-wise, is to think you’ve arrived. That’s what I have to teach them.
“I’m used to it. I’ve never had a perfect group.”
Trying to score enough to keep up with Marshall will be difficult. Only Eric Williams Jr. (14.2 ppg) and Michael Hughes (12.7 ppg) average in double digits. Junior guard Mike Lewis II stands at 5.7, even though he’s 54 points shy of 1,000 career points.
Dambrot sounds eager to match wits with Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni, 71.
D’Antoni was a successful high school coach in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for 30 years before joining his brother Mike’s staffs with the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s really his retirement job. He’s my kind of guy,” Dambrot said, noting D’Antoni likes to wear a sports jacket with a Marshall T-shirt underneath. “He’s an offensive genius.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country when they play loose. They’ll take some shots, you’ll go, ‘Oooh.’
“It’s all pro-based. He doesn’t care what kind of shots they take. They’re capable of playing with anybody in the country when they have it going.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.