Basketball: Three-game homestand significant for Dukes

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Duquesne has an upcoming three-game homestand in six days that will go a long way in defining how the 2006-07 basketball season will be remembered.

The first chapter was a tragedy, with five players wounded in a shootout on campus after a dance Sept. 17.

That was followed by a series of unfortunate events, which included injuries and illnesses that sidelined players and the coach.

Duquesne didn't have enough healthy bodies available and had to scratch a scheduled full-court scrimmage for a Meet the Dukes day Oct. 14. During the first week or so of official practice, former players Bryant McAllister and Keith Gayden along with Duquesne assistant coaches participated in drills because the Dukes were so short-handed.

Atlantic 10 standings

Team

Conf.

Season

Rhode Island

10-3

17-10

Massachusetts

9-3

19-7

Xavier

9-3

19-7

Saint Joseph's

8-4

16-10

George Washington

7-5

16-8

Fordham

7-6

14-11

Dayton

6-6

17-10

Saint Louis

6-6

16-10

Duquesne

6-7

10-14

Charlotte

5-7

12-13

Temple

5-7

11-14

St. Bonaventure

3-9

6-19

La Salle

3-10

10-17

Richmond

2-10

6-19

Then came a transformation of style that triggered a stretch of five consecutive victories, nearly 100 points per game and, most important, hope for the future.

Just when the Dukes seemed to be on the cusp of writing a happy ending to what had been a sad story for so long, they stumbled and lost three in a row to drop in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings.

Now they are faced with games at home against Charlotte tomorrow, St. Bonaventure Saturday and Akron Monday that will determine whether this season is a feel-good saga of a basketball team that refused to give up the fight or the tale of a team that achieved beyond even the wildest dreams of its followers.

Charlotte (12-13, 5-7) and St. Bonaventure (6-19, 3-9) are league games and Akron (20-5), which has won five consecutive games against Duquesne, is a contender for the Mid-American Conference championship.

The Charlotte 49ers, coming off an 86-79 loss at Rhode Island, are 1-9 on the road.

Duquesne finishes the regular season March 3 at George Washington.

Duquesne (10-14, 6-7), picked to finish 13th in a 14-team league in a preseason poll of the coaches, already has exceeded expectations. But by doing that, the Dukes also have become disappointing with losses Wednesday at Richmond (69-66) and Sunday at Fordham (86-83).

"Hopefully we can bounce back, keep our minds right and be mature about the way we approach it," coach Ron Everhart said. "We just have to find ways to win these games at the end."

The Dukes have become competitive. They have won games they weren't supposed to. And they have won back fans.

More than 5,100 -- including a walk-up of nearly 2,500 -- rocked the Palumbo Center Feb. 11, but the Dukes were routed by Rhode Island, 111-87.

Duquesne basketball has, at long last, become visible on the district sports radar.

"We've done a lot of good things, a lot of things maybe some people didn't think we could do," Everhart said of the Dukes, whose 10-man rotation includes five freshmen and three junior-college transfers in their first season in Division I. "This season's not over yet. There's still a lot more we can accomplish. Our goal has always been the same. We want the players to be accountable to each other, to the coaches and to Duquesne University.

"We want them to be proud to wear the uniform, and we want Duquesne University to be proud of them."

Duquesne is in the middle of the pack in the A-10 in a logjam with six teams jockeying for seeds between sixth and 11th for the tournament. St. Bonaventure (3-9), La Salle and Richmond (2-10) are battling for the final berth.

The Dukes, who were 3-24 under Danny Nee, didn't qualify for the tournament last season.


Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.


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