Weiss: Duquesne’s reboot ran into several issues

Duquesne’s men’s basketball team battled valiantly against a Richmond team picked second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, but that effort quickly gave way to the reality of a setback of 74-57 Tuesday night, good for its sixth straight loss.

Right now, Duquesne has a conference win to its name and, in coach Keith Dambrot’s own words, it’s just not a good team, or at least not championship quality.

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Last season, Duquesne faced that same Richmond team in the Atlantic 10 Championship and played with conviction, but without fear.

This year’s team, by design, is very different from that one, although Dambrot by no means expected a team struggling to stay healthy and find results.

At least Tuesday night, Duquesne showed combat and refusal to get up, but even then the body language looked like a loss with each of the seven three-pointers Richmond buried in the second half.

Tuesday’s effort was noticeably better after Saturday, the team didn’t run out of sets, let down the defense, lost virtually every hustle play and finally seemed to give up.

From the start, he seemed like a different Duquesne as Tyson Acuff and Toby Okani both started, replacing Leon Ayers III and Jackie Johnson III in the lineup.

After Saturday’s loss to St. Louis, Dambrot talked about making winning plays and that he would face like-minded people. Whether that’s a message to send or that he liked how these two would go head-to-head with Richmond in particular is up in the air.

Ayers was someone Dambrot wanted to start this season but wasn’t always able to start. If it was an attempt to send a message and see how he would react to a challenge, the results were mixed.

Johnson hasn’t hit double figures in four of the last five games as he seems to be scouted differently and while he’s been less fortunate at times than other starters, Dambrot has repeatedly said he still has still a lot to learn.

Tre Williams was effective in the first half stretches against Grant Golden as two of his three baskets came with Mounir Hima guarding it. Even still, Golden, an all-conference type player, played 22 minutes, a sign that Richmond had the game well in hand.

Where does Duquesne go from here?

It’s hard to say Dambrot is safe given he’s substituted players, gone with different starting line-ups and in Saturday’s press conference didn’t directly answer a reporter’s question about a possible switch to a zone defense.

In the past, Dambrot has opted for “defenses of despair” for short stays, but never permanently. It seems that with an eight player rotation he is simply trying to get those on the pitch to focus on the principles, but from an attacking perspective it hasn’t worked as evidenced by the fact the Dukes haven’t eclipsed 61 points since Jan. 12.

Dambrot himself will admit that the squad he had his first season which included a few legacy players and others who were quickly brought in, had more experience for that.

Now, Duquesne has no margin for error, which Dambrot takes responsibility for because he was the one who disconnected the product. He potentially could have reclaimed his Twin Towers from Mike Hughes and Marcus Weathers, but both were traded.

Tavian Dunn-Martin initially returned in a video produced by the university itself, but suddenly he was gone too.

Of course, Sincere Carry and Lamar Norman Jr were transferred in the middle of what you want to call the 2020-21 campaign. Chad Baker, Andre Harris and Amari Kelly also left.

By all accounts, this year’s Dukes were very optimistic and optimistic about his chances, with Dambrot very optimistic, but in terms of records, it just hasn’t worked out this season.

“I feel bad for the Duquesne fans, I owe them more than that,” Dambrot said. “I restarted it and when you reorganize a large company, you never know how long it’s going to take. I know people don’t like to hear that, but I never said it would take seven years to turn things around. We circled it around the second or third year, but we didn’t quite cross the pedestal. We have to decide how to get out of the hump again.

There have been and no doubt there will be growing pains with this Duquesne team who still have 10 A-10 games to play and a George Mason game that could be postponed.

This season has been one where Duquesne has had to take several punches to the mouth and has now focused on small wins inside a game to try and secure a collective victory, but Dambrot praised the school for understanding what is accomplished, or at least tempted to be.

“That’s all you can ask of the people you work for, believe me, they might get picky. I understand,” Dambrot said. “I wouldn’t even blame them for being honest with you.” That’s what this world is all about, a results-driven business.

With so much of the season remaining, Dambrot thinks his team could still win a few games in a conference tournament, but there’s still a long way to go to get there.

Finding improvements and wins will be a challenge as Duquesne will look for wins at VCU and Dayton, two tough places to play, over the next eight days.

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