Duquesne: Defense key to victory;Saunders has big game, scores 27

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WASHINGTON -- There was a lot of uncertainty hovering around the Duquesne basketball team.

Was Saturday's game against George Washington going to get postponed because of what some people called a "snowmageddon" in the nation's capital, leaving the area burrowing out from under about 20 inches of snow?

Would the Dukes even get to the game? After all, the charter bus they planned to ride from the hotel to the Smith Center got stuck, forcing coach Ron Everhart to hurriedly summon a cab service that offered SUVs.

Would the Dukes bounce back in another Atlantic 10 Conference road game after getting slammed by Temple in Philadelphia Wednesday?

Among all the uncertainty was one beacon of assuredness: Junior swingman Damian Saunders was going to -- as always -- exert full effort. And that effort pushed the Dukes (12-11, 3-6) to a 70-63 victory against host George Washington (12-10, 2-7) inside a building dotted with just 1,507 people -- mostly students.

Saunders was terrific, scoring a career-high 27 points and pulling down 16 rebounds, nine of them on offense.

He had 12 points at halftime, helped the Dukes build a 33-28 lead after the first 20 minutes and played a stellar role on defense. Duquesne held the Colonials to just 34.3 percent shooting.

"I thought that Saunders was phenomenal for us," Everhart said. "He was as good as I've ever seen him. And I've seen him pretty good. ... He really is one of those guys who, every night, is going to bring the type of energy and effort it takes to win basketball games."

What did Saunders think of the masterpiece he had just put together?

Just outside the locker room after the game, a game in which the Dukes scored 40 points from close range, Saunders was his usual nonchalant self when asked to speak on his least favorite topic -- Damian Saunders.

"Me being the type of guy I am, I just try to make a play all the time," he said. "I just let it come to me. I just play."

And play he did, outdueling George Washington leading scorers Lasan Kromah (15 points) and Dwayne Smith (14).

Even as the Dukes struggled again from the free-throw line, going 15 for 29, Saunders stepped up and made two key free throws with 28 seconds left to up the Dukes' lead from 67-63 to 69-63.

Those free throws capped off a second half in which Duquesne allowed George Washington take a lead at the 15:41 mark, hold it for three minutes, then wrestle it back.

"Every chance we had to get in the game, we either turned it over, or someone took a bad or quick shot," George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said, before turning his comments to Saunders. "Going into the game, our whole game plan with him was, I didn't care how many shots he took, we didn't care how many he made, we just didn't want him to get offensive rebounds. And he had nine. And that was the difference in the game. He single-handedly kept them in the game."

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com


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