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Feb. 23—Duquesne has been a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference for 44 years.
So long ago that Keith Dambrot was barely out of high school, and he needed only 62 cents to put a gallon of gas in his car.
Duquesne has had only seven winning conference seasons in all those years — two in the previous three under Dambrot's stewardship.
Perhaps it sounds like a big deal that the Dukes (7-7, 6-6) have a chance for another winning season as they prepare for their final A-10 games — at La Salle on Wednesday, Saturday back home at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse against Rhode Island and the tournament next week.
But if Duquesne finishes with more victories than defeats and doesn't make a meaningful run toward a championship, Dambrot will go into the offseason an unhappy coach.
"I really didn't come here to have a winning record," he said Tuesday before leaving with his team for Philadelphia.
"We're just trying to build consistency, a good program and at some point, a championship level program."
Duquesne won 40 games over the previous two seasons (2019-20), the school's most victories in consecutive seasons since 1971-72.
"We've been close," he said. "Four good games and we can play in the NCAA Tournament."
Boldly, he proclaimed, "And we can give somebody a hard time in the NCAA Tournament."
He understands reality, too. "It's hard to win four games. It's hard to win one game," he said. "We're certainly good enough.
"We have to be more consistent, with not only our playing but our emotions. If we do that, we'll be right there."
Win or lose, Duquesne is "right there" more often than not. Of its past 30 A-10 games, 19 have been decided by single-digit margins, 14 by five points or fewer.
"We've very rarely got our (rear ends) beat in," Dambrot said, not that he's bragging.
"Now, winning consistently and being competitive are two different things. We need to make more plays and we certainly need to shoot the ball better from the perimeter to ever be what we want to be. We do a lot of other things really well."
Success at tournament time often is driven by guards and a team's ability to shoot 3-pointers. With five freshmen getting important minutes and two starting, Duquesne has relied heavily on senior big men Marcus Weathers (14.8 points per game) and Michael Hughes (11.1).
Senior guard Tavian Dunn-Martin was a 35.4% 3-point shooter the previous three seasons at Akron and Duquesne. He's down to 28.2% this season after accepting double-duty and assuming much of the ball-handling duties when Sincere Carry transferred. As a team, Duquesne is shooting 29%, 323rd of 340 Division I schools.
"Most of our problems relate to us not putting the ball in the basket from that 3 line," Dambrot said. "If we ever would shoot the ball at a higher level, we'd be one of the best teams in the league.
"Maybe we're not capable of it. Maybe we're a guy away. But I think we are a little better than what we've shown so far."
Duquesne's first game after a 17-day covid pause was a 79-72 loss at Richmond last Saturday.
While Dambrot's expectations were tempered by the situation, the result is no easier to accept.
"We made a lot of mistakes. We tried really hard, were running in mud. That didn't surprise me," he said.
"Our fight didn't surprise me, either. We've shown tremendous grit and fight for the most part."
A couple of late loose balls that the Dukes failed to secure were turning points.
"Hopefully, we'll get a loose ball or a ball that bounces our way when it really matters," he said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .