Duquesne men hoping to build momentum, get bye as A-10 Tournament nears

March 21, 2018 GMT

Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot made a vow Friday morning before joining his team on its way Amherst, Mass., to play UMass.

“I’m not going to lose. I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I’m not going to let him beat me.”

If only Dambrot had been talking about UMass coach Matt McCall and the Dukes’ game Saturday night against the Minutemen. What a story it would have been.

No, Dambrot was referring to Duquesne director of basketball of operations Steve McNees, who challenged his boss to get his weight under 150 pounds before the Final Four.

“He challenged me, so I’m going to teach him a lesson,” said Dambrot, who spoke to reporters while pedaling a stationary bike. “I have 8 pounds to go.”

The Dukes (16-14, 7-10) and their coach have another goal to meet, with the Atlantic 10 regular season ending Saturday and tournament play beginning Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

After they were picked to finish 14th (last) in a preseason coaches/media poll, the Dukes are in a four-way tie for ninth with George Washington, Dayton and La Salle.

A victory Saturday against Massachusetts (11-19, 4-13) will assure the Dukes of finishing no worse than 10th and avoiding a first-round game Wednesday.

A victory also would be Duquesne’s eighth in the A-10, the most since the 2010-11 team was 10-6.

The Dukes could know their fate by the time they tip off at 8 p.m. Saturday. GW plays Dayton, and La Salle is at Saint Joseph’s in afternoon games.

But Dambrot said scoreboard watching is useless, and he’ll try to avoid it.

“None of that matters unless you play well, anyway,” he said. “I just try to control what I can control, which is winning the game.

“Our job is to go in there and play well, so we get a little momentum (entering the tournament).”

He said a one-game winning streak hardly qualifies as momentum, especially after the 76-69 victory against fourth-place Saint Louis followed a six-game losing streak.

But there are positive signs that could indicate success against Massachusetts:

• The Dukes haven’t allowed more than 73 points in any of their past three games after opponents averaged 83.5 in the previous four.

“We’re getting into the 80s, we won’t win,” Dambrot said.

Senior point guard Rene Castro-Caneddy said defense made the difference against Saint Louis.

“During the losing streak, most of the games were really similar,” he said. “In the last five-six minutes, the games were close, and we weren’t able to get stops. Against Saint Louis, we were able to get stops.”

• Another key could be the emergence of an inside game to complement what has been a guard-heavy offense most of the season. Freshman center Tydus Verhoeven scored 21 against Saint Louis after averaging 2.5 all season.

• The third factor is something Dambrot can’t gauge on the scoreboard: The Dukes are playing hard, he said, even entering their 31st game.

“I liked our effort (against Saint Louis),” he said. “That’s key for us. When our effort is pretty good and we don’t let things bother us, we play better.

“If we’re not emotionally engaged, we can’t beat anybody.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.