Did the Duquesne men's basketball team ever need this one, or what?
The Dukes came in as losers of three consecutive games and hadn't won an Atlantic 10 Conference showdown.
The Dukes -- a team coming off a 21-win season -- hadn't realized victory since Dec. 22 as they headed out onto the Palumbo Center court against Saint Louis last night.
A win would have been momentous.
Instead, it turned into one giant missed opportunity, as Duquesne (9-8, 0-3) let an eight-point lead early in the second-half fizzle away before succumbing to the Billikens, 79-75, in double-overtime last night.
The game was the Dukes' school-record fifth overtime game of the season and second in a row, as the squad was coming off an overtime loss Saturday at Dayton.
Duquesne is 2-3 in overtime games.
This one might have been decided in a stretch in the second half when the Dukes took a 31-23 lead with 18:44 remaining. But in a span 14 minutes, the Billikens (11-5, 2-0) made it 50-43 in their favor.
"We played pretty consistent defensively right there," Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus said. "And we started doing some things we set out to do."
They mainly got standout guard Kwamain Mitchell going. Mitchell, who had just two points in the first half, heated up and finished with a team-high 19.
It was that stretch in the second half in which Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, speaking in a sullen tone in a postgame news conference, felt that his team didn't respond the way he would have wanted.
"They kind of punched us in the mouth and we acted like we didn't want to get back in it," Everhart said. "And that's about as accurate as you can put it."
Paramount in the Dukes -- who were led by Damian Saunders' 23 points and 17 rebounds -- not being able to put Saint Louis away in regulation was a 22-for-36 effort from the free-throw line, shooting 8 for 26 in the second half and missing several layups late in the contest before it rolled into overtime.
"We were disappointed we couldn't hit a free throw or make a layup down the stretch," Everhart said. "We had opportunities and I thought our kids put themselves in a position to win and just couldn't do it. It has kind of been the story of our season in these losses."
As Saunders did much of the heavy lifting, and Bill Clark added 14 points, B.J. Monteiro chipped in with 12, Sean Johnson had 10 and Morakinyo Williams played a solid 28 minutes of defense, the Dukes were saddled by not having the services of Melquan Bolding for virtually the entire game.
Bolding played just five minutes -- all in the first half -- as he is fighting off strep throat and missed practice Tuesday. Everhart said his status is day to day.
Clark, who has struggled mightily as a jumpshooter since early December, rose up and drilled what could turn out to be a slump-buster for him. In the waning seconds of the first overtime, with Duquesne trailing, 60-57, Clark hammered home a 3-pointer with 9.1 seconds remaining to propel the game into a second overtime.
It served as the game's most critical shot for the Dukes, but then came the barrage in the second overtime.
Just like in the overtime loss at Dayton -- in which the Flyers scored the first seven points of overtime -- Saint Louis scored the first seven points of the second overtime to effectively end what would have been a momentous win for the Dukes.
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 14, 2010 5:00 AM