Keith Dambrot leads Duquesne into final six games of ‘draining’ season |

Keith Dambrot leads Duquesne into final six games of ‘draining’ season

Jerry DiPaola
Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot yells to his team during a college basketball game against Pitt on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

After the game has been over for hours and the janitor has swept up the last bit of spilled popcorn from the bleachers, one light stays lit inside Palumbo Center.

After losses, anyway.

Keith Dambrot is still at work in his office, trying to figure out what went wrong, guarding against it happening again.

“Every time we lose I never go home (immediately),” Duquesne’s coach said. “If I’m home before 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning, (it’s a rarity).”

Losers of four of their past six games, the Dukes (16-9, 7-5) enter the final third segment of the 18-game Atlantic 10 season Saturday when George Washington (7-17, 3-8) visits Palumbo.

Dambrot, who is in the second year of a seven-year contract, admits this season has been emotionally draining for players and coaches.

“I’ve done this a long time (21 seasons) and this has been one of the most draining seasons I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.

Every game is a fight to the final seconds.

• All 12 of Duquesne’s conference games have been decided by margins in the single digits.

• The Dukes have rallied to win eight times – half of their total — after trailing at halftime.

• Duquesne has come back to win six games after trailing by between 12 and 18 points.

“We fight like dogs,” he said. “I’ve never had a team come back more than this team.”

“We’ve been in every single game. Is that good or bad? Is it good for a second-year program that hasn’t been in the NCAA in 42 years? It’s not good for me. Because I have higher expectations than that. But is it good?

“We could have lost all 12. Seriously. And we could have won all 12. I guess reality lies somewhere in between.”

Dambrot hopes to win a breather occasionally, if only to allow himself the luxury of exhaling in the second half. But also to start showing his A-10 rivals that the Dukes are for real.

“Should this team be running away from people with no juniors and seniors?” he asked. “Probably not.

“The hard part with these guys is they’re so young that they’re not used to the grind of it all. I started getting mad and then I started thinking about it.

“We only have two guys (Eric Williams Jr. and Marcus Weathers) who have ever played (a full season). I’m not making any excuses, but that’s a hard deal for youngsters. They’re not used to the emotional drain of it all.”

Dambrot can point to one issue that has kept the games close. “We need to shoot the ball better,” he said.

Especially from behind the 3-point arc where that extra point for a field goal often makes a difference.

But while leading the A-10 in attempts (650), Duquesne is shooting only 31.7 percent beyond the arc, the worst for any Dambrot-coached team since at least 2005.

Four of Dambrot’s Akron teams shot between 38.1 and 39.2 percent, averaging 23.8 victories per season and twice winning the Mid-American Conference East.

“If this team was up 3 or 4 or 5 or even 8 percentage points, it would be almost undefeated,” he said. “We just don’t shoot the ball enough to get away from anybody.”

The bottom line is that Dambrot has raised expectations by bringing excitement back to the Bluff and winning 25 of 35 home games in his two seasons.

“What happens is when you win you want more,” he said. “It’s kind of like a drug.

“When you win, you’re never satisfied. You’re trying to work, work, work. When you lose, you’re depressed.

“The kids don’t get depressed because it’s a game to them. But for us, it’s what we do. We put so much time into this. It takes me a whole day (to get over a loss) and then I have to fake it because I can’t come (to practice) and be down.

“If you’re built like that and you do this for an extended period of time, that can’t be too healthy, can it?”

During the season, he said there’s little else but sleep and basketball.

“My poor wife (Donna), all she gets is a zombie half the time when I am home.”

That drug – winning—keeps the 60-year-old Dambrot going.

“Are we good?” he asked. “We’re good enough to compete with everyone.”

Trouble is, close doesn’t count in his world.

“Are we good?” he asked again.

“It’s hard to tell.”

NOTE: Freshman guard Sincere Carry missed practice Friday to rest his ailing knees. His status for Saturday is unknown.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.