Duquesne and West Virginia are loaded with young athletes and have the potential to grow into contenders in their respective conferences over the next few years.
One glaring difference, however, is under the basket, as the Mountaineers' frontcourt is long and athletic and much bigger than the frontcourt of the Dukes.
And sure enough, West Virginia's size and strength proved to be the difference last night when the two teams met before a crowd of 3,487 at the Palumbo Center. The Mountaineers outrebounded Duquesne by 22, overcame a poor first half and survived the Dukes' pressure defense to come away with a 68-63 win.
West Virginia, which grabbed 26 offensive rebounds, had two players grab 10 rebounds and blocked eight shots. The Mountaineers trailed at the half, 35-27, but came out of the locker room with a renewed intensity, particularly on the defensive end, and made a 12-0 run over the first seven minutes.
The run swung the game in the Mountaineers' favor and once they took the lead -- at 37-35 with 15:56 to play on a 3-pointer by Kevin Jones -- they never trailed again, though Duquesne did manage to tie the score at 56 with 4:28 to play.
"I think you have to give credit to West Virginia, they came out in the second half riled up," said Duquesne guard Aaron Jackson, who led all scorers with 19 points. "You can tell [West Virginia coach Bob] Huggins got in them at the half.
"The key is, though, that not only are they long, they are strong and if you look at the offensive rebounding -- they had 26 of them and that right there won the game."
Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said, "Twenty-six offensive rebounds? I don't know that I have ever seen that before on a stat sheet. You have to hand it to them, though, that was a great effort on their part to get to the glass."
Despite getting pounded under the basket and on the boards, the Dukes (5-3) had several opportunities late to take the lead but couldn't knock down a shot -- a common theme for both teams as they were a combined 47 for 124, including 9 for 44 from the 3-point line.
Both coaches attributed the poor shooting to the fact that both teams expended a lot of energy on defense and there just weren't that many open looks at the basket.
But while the Mountaineers (7-2) were able to capitalize on missed shots by turning them into putbacks -- the missed shots prevented the Dukes from getting into their full-court defense as much as they'd like.
"We were timid in the first half, really tentative," Huggins said. "We played like we were scared, we were not the aggressor. [The offensive rebounds], we're accustomed to that because we have so much practice at it because we miss so many shots every game. We haven't made any shots all year, so we've gotten used to getting offensive rebounds."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720