Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio has the Dukes entering the conference tournament on a high note.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
All season long, Duquesne's recipe for success has been to use their suffocating press defense to create offense.
Facing a resilient Butler team in a close game early in the second half Sunday, the Dukes did just that.
Duquesne overcame a sluggish start to race to a 59-43 victory against Butler Sunday at Palumbo Center, propelling it into the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament next week on a winning note.
After a Butler basket cut the Dukes' lead to 28-25 with 16:14 left in the game, Duquesne sprinted to a 16-2 run to put the game away, forcing four Butler turnovers in that stretch.
"I think our defense, we just stepped up our press defense a little bit," said senior Jocelyn Floyd, who leads all Division I players with 5.2 steals per game. "[We] just pressured them a lot more. Getting steals and fast breaks, we got the momentum."
Both teams struggled to get baskets in the first half, but the Dukes held a 26-21 lead at the break. Just before the halftime buzzer, senior guard Vanessa Abel hit a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Dukes some momentum.
Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said she told her team to turn up the heat in the second half.
"We got passive in our press in the first half," McConnell-Serio said. "We talked about trapping, getting up on their guards a little bit more."
It also didn't hurt that the Dukes honed in their shooting touch in the final 20 minutes. After shooting 30.6 percent in the first half, they made 48.1 percent in the second.
Wumi Agunbiade recorded her 18th career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Dukes, and Oditte Odisho came off the bench to lead all scorers with a career-high 14 points.
"It's great when you have that spark coming off the bench," McConnell-Serio said. "Sometimes you don't skip a beat."
Before the game, Floyd, Abel and fellow seniors Ahjah Hall and Carly Vendemia were honored on Duquesne's senior day. The four will graduate as the winningest class in school history, a mark that has been broken each of the past four years.
"[It's] sad to go, but it's been a great run," Floyd said. "Each year we've just gotten better. We just want to finish this year off strong."
The Dukes will turn their sights to the Atlantic 10 tournament. Entering the game against Butler, they had an outside chance at a first-round bye, but didn't get the right results in other league games. Instead, No. 5-seeded Duquesne will play No. 12 VCU at 2:30 p.m. Friday in Philadelphia with the winner advancing to face Saint Joseph's Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Even if they fall short in the conference tournament, the Dukes figure to have a strong enough résumé to warrant an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the first in school history.
For now, though, that's not something they're worried about.
"It's just playing game by game, taking it from there," Abel said. "We're not really focused on what happens after the A-10 tournament. We really want to win the A-10 tournament."