The stakes for Duquesne heading into Wednesday night's game against Saint Joseph's were clear: Win, and earn a significant leg up in the Atlantic 10 standings.
The Dukes demonstrated the urgency of the moment in the second half when they battled back from a 14-point deficit to tie the score, but ultimately came up heartbreakingly short, falling to the Hawks, 69-68, in overtime.
"I'm not going to lie, this one hurts," Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.
Duquesne (19-5, 8-2) had three chances to win the game in the final seconds. After a pair of missed shots, the Dukes got one more chance off an inbound with 1.6 seconds left. April Robinson's buzzer-beating floater found nothing but air, though, and the Dukes walked off the court knowing they let a chance to make a major statement in the conference standings slip away.
"This was a huge game for us," McConnell-Serio said. "We knew that coming in and we didn't respond."
Early in the second half, the Hawks (17-6, 8-1) appeared to be well on their way to a relatively easy win. The Dukes offense had fallen flat, and a 19-5 Saint Joseph's run that spanned halftime had given the visitors a 41-27 lead.
"We were running our sets, then once we didn't have first or second pass with a scoring opportunity, we became stagnant," McConnell-Serio said.
The Dukes chipped away, though, and eventually tied it, 52-52, with 2:51 to play on a Jocelyn Floyd steal and layup. Floyd leads Division I in steals per game, and had seven Wednesday night.
"It's crazy how she does it," teammate Vanessa Abel said. "I wish I could do that. She always comes out of nowhere."
Duquesne had plenty of chances to ice the game in regulation, but struggled mightily from the free-throw line. After the game, McConnell-Serio pointed to her team's 13-of-27 performance from the line as the reason for the loss.
McConnell-Serio said she makes her team shoot extra free throws every practice, but the Dukes still rank last in the conference in free-throw percentage.
"It's been a snowball effect," McConnell-Serio said. "It's been contagious. It's something we can control.
"We can't control the officials, we can't control the way the game's being called, but we can control knocking down the free throws."
The Dukes were 3-7 from the line in the final five minutes of regulation.
"You just look at the foul shots," Abel said. "That's the bottom line. Two foul shots, we win the game."
Floyd had 18 points to lead the Dukes, and Robinson added 12 more, and made all four of her free throws in overtime.
Orsi Szecsi, still recovering from a torn shoulder in game Jan. 30 against George Washington, had 10 points, including a pair of key 3-pointers during the Duke's second-half comeback. She re-aggravated the injury late, though, and watched overtime from the bench.
McConnell-Serio said she expects to not have Szecsi when Duquesne travels to take on conference-leading Dayton Monday.
The Dukes likely will need some help to move higher than fourth in the conference standings after Wednesday's loss, but handing the Flyers, who have just one loss and are ranked No. 17 in Division I, their first road loss could serve as a spark down the stretch.
"We just said [after the game] we had to pick our heads up," Floyd said.
"We fought to the end. We made a great comeback in the second half. We just couldn't finish, couldn't make free throws."mobilehome - duquesnesports
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.