Keith Dambrot hopes defense will carry Dukes through tough stretch
Keith Dambrot doesn’t get upset when his team has trouble making shots. He just orders more shooting drills in practice.
But Duquesne’s coach has no patience for shoddy defense. There’s no drill for that. Plus, he believes defense is what will keep the Dukes (16-8, 7-4) competitive through the rest of the season.
“Some teams’ energy level is tied to shooting,” Dambrot said. “We want to be a team whose energy level is tied to defense. If the ball doesn’t go in, you’re still in the game because your energy level is still good.”
The Dukes have kept their past three opponents under 69 points — something they did only twice in January — but they’re entering the critical and, possibly, most difficult stretch of the season.
It starts Wednesday night at La Salle (7-15, 5-5), where Duquesne can reach two milestones. If the Dukes win, they’ll tie the school record for Atlantic 10 road victories (four) and surpass last year’s win total (16) with at least seven games to play.
The Dukes sit only 1 ½ games out of first place in the A-10, but three of the next four games are on the road.
Dambrot doesn’t appear concerned. His team has stared down adversity through most of this season, winning eight times when it trailed at halftime, six times when it was behind by between 12 and 18 points.
“It takes us to go down a certain amount for us to really wake up and understand what we have to do to win the game,” forward Marcus Weathers said. “I expect us to play a full 40 minutes.”
Dambrot said many of his team’s struggles are connected to their approach.
“If our mindset is good and we don’t let plays bother us, we’re a pretty good team,” he said.
The most recent comeback was at Fordham on Saturday, when the Dukes were losing 51-33 with 13:56 left in the game and rallied to win by eight. Duquesne scored 41 points the rest of the way, but Dambrot credited his defense.
“We felt like (Fordham’s energy level) was a little bit tied to shooting. If we guarded them, we have a chance to win,” he said.
Dambrot has won 445 games in 21 seasons, but he said, “I’ve never had a team like this.”
“Facially, I looked at them at the 14-minute mark, and I didn’t know if we could come back or not. I didn’t think we had it.
“Then one guy makes a play, another guy make a play. Maybe they’re just front-runners where at some point when things start going pretty good, they go, and when things go pretty bad, somebody steps up.
“I give them a lot of credit. There are not many teams in the country who can do what they’ve done.”
The key was getting solid efforts from guards Sincere Carry and Tavian Dunn-Martin, who each had four assists to go with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Dunn-Martin typically comes off the bench, but he has hit 11 of 21 3-point attempts over the past five games.
“With Tavian, you get a guy who’s shooting at a high clip, 3-point percentage, but you’re also getting a guy who can get you four or five assists,” Dambrot said.
“I’ve been hitting him real hard on taking the next step.”
Two of the Dukes’ most recent losses occurred when Carry and Dunn-Martin were hurt against VCU and St. Bonaventure.
“We’re not at the point — and most teams aren’t — where we can withstand that,” Dambrot said.
The injuries that held back Carry and Dunn-Martin largely have healed, but now Frankie Hughes’ has tendinitis in his knees, something the Dukes must monitor. After scoring 20 points in consecutive games, he’s totaled just 24 in the past three.
The Dukes need everyone against La Salle which has won four of its past five A-10 games after starting the season 0-10.
Junior guard Saul Phiri, who missed those games, is shooting 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (29 for 58) in the conference. Overall, La Salle leads the A-10 in 3-point shooting (37.5 percent) in league games.
“They’re as good as any other team in our league,” Dambrot said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .