No, it wasn't the NCAA tournament bid that Duquesne had dreamed of all season.
Still, the Dukes took advantage of the opportunity in front of them Thursday night at Palumbo Center and ensured their season will last at least one game longer.
A furious second-half comeback and some cold-blooded free-throw shooting in the final seconds sealed the deal in Duquesne's 71-66 victory against Akron in the first round of the Women's NIT.
"We just came out wanting to prove a point as to why we should've been in the NCAA tournament," forward Wumi Agunbiade said. "Us winning this tournament will show what we made of."
It took awhile for those competitive juices to kick into gear though. With 11:08 to play in the second half, the Zips took their third 11-point lead of the game, and it appeared that Duquesne had no interest in continuing in a tournament they didn't believe they deserved to be in.
Instead, the Dukes ripped off a 14-2 run and claimed a 54-53 lead.
"In the timeout, I attacked their pride, challenged them and they responded," Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.
"I'm grateful the band was playing at that time because I'm pretty sure the whole gym would've heard me yelling at my team."
After some back-and-forth lead changes, the Zips went ahead 59-56 with 4:43 to play. That's when senior guard Vanessa Abel started playing like she didn't want her career to end Thursday night. Abel scored 13 of the Dukes' final 15 points and iced the game from the line.
"Knowing that it was the way we were going to end our season, that had a lot to do with it," Abel said. "Playing the way we were, no one wants to go out like that and end there season like that, and we have something to prove."
Abel finished with 16 points, and Agunbiade led all scorers with 22.
The Dukes just missed out on an NCAA tournament bid when the 64-team field was announced Monday night. Despite having an Rating Percentage Index ranking of 36, Duquesne fell just on the wrong side of the bubble. ESPN.com's Charlie Creme had the Dukes in the field in his final "Bracketology" prediction, but only as the final team in.
McConnell-Serio said Monday that she would try to put a positive spin on playing in the team's fifth consecutive WNIT. She noted that, while an NCAA trip might be one-and-done, the Dukes have a good chance to make a run in the WNIT.
Initially, it looked as if it took awhile for that message to sink in. Abel conceded that the Dukes didn't fully get over their NCAA snub until right before tipoff Thursday, and it looked like it might have even taken a little longer than that.
The game stayed tight, but Agunbiade admitted that Duquesne was a bit sluggish, especially on the defensive end.
"I think we were just reacting," she said. "We weren't anticipating very well. Defensively, we were kind of out of sync."
The teams went back and forth in a first half that featured five ties and 10 lead changes. Neither team held a lead larger than six points, and that only came at the end of the half when Akron's Hanna Luburgh hit a 3-pointer with six seconds left to give the Zips a 37-31 lead at the break.
Duquesne will play at 5 p.m. Saturday at Bowling Green. This wasn't the tournament Duquesne wanted to be playing in, but, since they are, they might as well win it.
"This is where we're at," senior guard Jocelyn Floyd said. "So we just have to come in this tournament. [McConnell-Serio] believes we can make it to the championship and I think we do too."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published March 22, 2013 4:00 AM