In a blog post yesterday, I detailed the chasm between Duquesne's performance at home and how it does on the road. It's been a prevalent topic of conversation over the past few weeks and tomorrow, I'll have a story on it in the paper.
For now, though, I'll leave you with some insight and perspective from separate talks I had with Dukes coach Jim Ferry and junior guard Jeremiah Jones.
In these kind of situations, people usually look for concrete answers, but is this just more of an inexplicable thing?
“It’s almost been the true definition of frustration. You see it and you know what the problem is, but you’re having a hard time of fixing it. If you look at other teams in the league like Saint Louis, they have one road win all year. They’re 0-7 in the league. Richmond only has one win on the road, I think. Fordham, I think, only has one. There are a bunch of teams that aren’t winning on the road, either. The thing that’s concerning me is how drastically different we play on the road. This is coming from a guy who, four years ago, my team led the country in road wins. In my second-to-last year at LIU, we led the country in road wins. My programs have won on the road in the past. I’m trying to keep the formula, but you have to adjust with your team. Some of it is the youth of our frontcourt on the road. Some of it is us not playing as efficiently offensively, which really affects us defensively. Our stats extremely, extremely different.”
“We’re playing the same guys and it’s drastic. We do the same preparation. Maybe I just need to not let it be a mental game. We try to approach every game ‘Hey, this is a game, this is what we have to do to win the game.’ No matter where the game is played, the gameplan is usually the same. But it’s been really frustrating. We’re trying to use analytics, we’re using individual meetings, we’re using approaches, we’re using gameplanning. It’s been a challenge and we’re trying to figure it out. Sometimes, you can’t control it. We have to play better on the road. We still have two more opportunities to do that, fix that and try to get a win on the road.”
You were bringing up the mental angle there. For pretty much any college basketball player, if you’ve consistently fallen short in doing something, does a mental block form?
“I think kids nowadays are really fragile in all aspects of their life. It could be part of it. What has been concerning is in a lot of these games, with like two minutes to go in the first half, we’ve been tied or down two or down three. Then, all of a sudden in that two-minute stretch, it gets to 16. That’s been really concerning. Prior to the La Salle game, we played very well on the road at UMass. We were tied with under two minutes to go. I’m obviously not making excuses, but we had a lot of adversity during that La Salle trip with coach Rhodes and stuff. But that was still kind of the way we’ve been playing. So hopefully next time we go on the road, we play better. But more importantly right now, I hope we play as well as we’ve been playing at home. Let’s not let the home aspect dip off and then get better on the road. Let’s keep getting better at home and then obviously try to fix things on the road.”
With only one senior on the team and with a lot of guys who have just a year or two of DI experience, do you think that might play some kind of role, that lack of experience?
“Absolutely. For some of these guys in our program, it’s the first time ever walking into those gyms. In the Atlantic 10, with an unbalanced schedule, you don’t always go on the road every year to those different teams. Sometimes it’s just the travel. Our travel is significantly different than high school travel. These guys are learning that. Hydrating your body the right way when you’re flying, eating properly, eating multiple times in a day, not just laying around the hotel room but getting the proper rest you need. It’s all a part of it and it’s all a part of the mental approach, too. That’s something we can control. If you look at it, Jeremiah and DC are the only guys that have been here for three years. Micah and Domo have been here for two and everybody else is basically brand new. A lot of this is a new experience for these guys. If you look at the teams that are winning on the road, I think they’re some of the teams that do have more experience. But it’s something we have to deal with and something we have to get better at. It’s been frustrating, but it’s not something I want to make into a mental game. It’s still a basketball court, the rims are 10 feet high, it’s still the same size. We have to focus on playing better.”
What do you feel like you guys picked up from the first meeting with Saint Louis that might help you all in this one?
“In that game, I thought we played really well to start both halfs. We missed 21 free throws; that was a major factor in that game. I also thought we allowed them to feel a little too comfortable on the perimeter against our zone. And they were at home and we were on the road. I thought that was part of it, too. They’re very similar to us. They’re a very good team. Jim Crews is one of the best coaches in the country. They’re so well prepared and they really defend you well. They’ve gotten better since we played them and we’ve gotten better since we played them. We’re really going to see on Wednesday night.”
Of your seven road losses in A-10 play, six of them have come to teams I believe are in the top half of the league. Does that play some kind of factor?
“That plays more of a factor than the gym. It’s the team that’s in the gym you’re playing against. We’ve played some really good teams, but then we’ve come home and played those teams and beaten those same teams. You shouldn’t lose by 20 on the road and then come home and beat them. Now, let’s credit our kids for that, let’s credit our team for that. We’re a team that does make adjustments and has gotten better. We’ve lost by 20 and we’ve been able to learn what we’re done wrong and make the adjustments and win those games. That’s a very positive sign.”
“We’ve got to limit our mistakes. We have a small margin of error and it’s even smaller when we go on the road. We have to have better defense when our offense hits those segments where we have those empty possessions in a row. A perfect example of that is against Dayton. We still had those possessions where we went five in a row and didn’t score. But we only allowed Dayton to score on one of those possessions. We have to do a better job of that defensively, focusing more on defense on the road and really grinding things out when our offense isn’t clicking and the ball’s not going in the basket.”
Pretty much any coach will tell you how difficult conference road games are and it seems like some of the better programs are defined by their ability to consistently get those kind of wins. Would being able to get over that hump a bit represent a big step for this as a program?
“Sure, but again, when you’re talking about a program, you’re talking about a process. Let’s judge these guys in a couple of years when you’re older. That’s how you build a program. When I got here, what was here? Now, we’re building it and we have some recruiting classes. When DC and Micah are seniors and everybody else are junior and sophomores, then let’s judge because now we have experience of playing on the road and playing in tougher games. When you look at the teams that have success, like you look at St. Joe’s last year – they didn’t struggle to win on the road last year. Yeah, because they were full of seniors. Saint Louis, they didn’t struggle winning on the road last year. They were all seniors. Now, those teams are young and they’re struggling to win on the road very much like us. It’s part of the process and the maturation of kids. It’s different.”
Is this home-road thing something you guys as players are cognizant of or talk about at all?
“Coach has brought it up plenty of times. We didn’t really realize it at first because we don’t look at the numbers or percentages as much as him. He brought it to our attention that we’re significantly different on the road than we are at home, both offensively and defensively. We understand that sometimes offensively you’re going to be different because you’re not as comfortable playing away on other people’s floors. But as long as your defense travels with you, you’ve got a chance to win games. That’s something we’ve talked about as far as the difference between home and away for us. We can’t let our defense drop knowing that for some games, our offense might not be there on the road.”
Is there anything you can think of that’s some kind of factor that plays into it? Is it a comfort thing?
“I think it’s kind of a comfort thing. We’re so used to shooting in our own gym all the time and things like that. We’re always in the gym getting up extra shots. I think it is more of a comfort thing for us offensively. Defensively, I couldn’t tell you why we play harder at home or anything. I don’t think there’s an explanation for it.”
You’re one of the older guys on the team, but this isn’t a group with a significant amount of DI experience. Do you think that plays a role, where the guys aren’t used to playing at a Dayton or a VCU and it can be tough at first?
“I think so. It’s hard for young guys to go into situations like that. We didn’t play at VCU this year, but we did play at Dayton, which was unfortunately our first conference game. Some of our younger guys weren’t used to seeing those kind of environments and hearing that kind of noise and stuff. I remember my freshman year like it was yesterday. It’s just the nerves going out there. Not having that is experience is definitely a little nerve-racking. I think they’ve done a pretty good job, honestly, of keeping their composure and doing what they can to help the team. It’s natural for younger guys to be nervous. I still think they’ve done a good job, but I do think that has a little bit to do with it.”
When you all go two or three months without a road win, is there almost a mental block that builds up?
“I don’t think so. Mentally, I think we have the same approach going into every game. I think one thing that it does do for us mentally is it gets us more locked in when we’re playing on the road because we understand that we haven’t won one yet and we want to win one badly. I think that’s one thing it does do for us mentally. It gives us more concentration and more focus. Hopefully that concentration and focus can lead to a win soon.”
On the flip side, since you all have done so well at home and beaten teams like GW and Dayton, is there a sort of confidence that comes with that, knowing that you were able to beat those kind of teams at home?
“There’s a confidence that comes from winning any game, but when you beat teams of that caliber, it shows you we can play with some of the best teams in our league. GW’s a great team, Dayton’s a great team. Both of them went to the NCAA tournament last year and they’re programs that we kind of look and see where we want to be. I think it does build confidence for us. Those wins are great, but I think any win is great and any win builds confidence for us.”
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