You can exhale now Duquesne fans -- Melquan Bolding has allowed you to do so.
This victory, the Dukes first Atlantic 10 Conference win and their first triumph since Dec. 22, seemed like it would never get here. That's because the recent losses have been so close and this one looked like it was frittering away.
And then Bolding rose up and hammered in a winning shot to give the Dukes (10-9, 1-4) a 70-69 victory last night against St. Bonaventure (9-9, 2-3) at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
The win, which snapped a five-game losing streak, came when Bolding took in a pass in the deep corner from Damian Saunders with the Dukes trailing by two points, elevated and put in a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining.
"Damian made a great pass, he found me in the corner," Bolding said. "The play was designed for Jason [Duty] to come off the stagger. But if we didn't have that, Damian was supposed to drive baseline and he had his head up, he passed it, and I just knocked it down."
Bolding did a lot more than knock down a jump shot.
He made the lone field goal the Dukes had in the final 12:45 in a game in which they led by 15 points at halftime.
He also could have salvaged the season for the Dukes. A sixth consecutive loss, and one in which it blew a big lead, might just have sent Duquesne into a tailspin.
Saunders, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and that one extraordinary assist on the Dukes' final possession, felt a familiar feeling sinking in when the Bonnies began to rally.
It was just like when Duquesne lost that tight one to Richmond, just like the overtime loss at Dayton, akin to the double-overtime loss against Saint Louis and remarkably similar to the end-game collapse at Rhode Island Wednesday.
"I think everybody on our team had a mindset," Saunders said. "Like, 'OK, we had a lead, and then they came back.' But, this game was different, we told ourselves in practice that whenever we get into a close game again that we were going to finish it out."
And the Dukes did, even as St. Bonaventure sophomore big man Andrew Nicholson did his best to try to not let that happen. Nicholson finished with 29 points on 11 of 19 shooting and Dukes coach Ron Everhart used a mishmash of four players -- Saunders, Bill Clark, Morakinyo Williams and Oliver Lewinson -- in an attempt to stop him.
"And he probably could have fouled all of them out," Everhart joked afterward. "He was tremendous, and as much as we tried to double him and send other guys at him, I thought St. Bonaventure and coach [Mark] Schmidt did a great job of trying to get him isolated."
The Dukes, though, looked early on as if they weren't going to let the Bonnies -- Nicholson or no Nicholson -- impede what they wanted to do. They shot to a 9-0 advantage and then quickly made it 14-2.
In a show of athleticism and pure speed, Duquesne beat the Bonnies down the court for much of the first half, not allowing St. Bonaventure's defense to get set. That produced a 43-28 Duquesne halftime advantage.
"But there was a transformation at halftime," Schmidt said.
There sure was.
St. Bonaventure slowed the game in the second half and forced the Dukes into 5-for-22 shooting in that span, The Bonnies took their first lead with 3:28 remaining and stretched it to 68-64 with 1:13 left. The Dukes fought back and got the ball for the Saunders-to-Bolding late-game heroics only after Clark drew a charge with 22 seconds remaining.
"I think we did a lot of good things early, I think we did a lot of bad things late," Everhart said. "And thank God we made a 3-pointer at the end."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1459. First Published January 24, 2010 5:00 AM