Dukes' side of bracket appealing after slump

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Duquesne lost five of its final seven regular-season games, but should recent history repeat the sixth-seeded Dukes could pose quite a threat in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

Duquesne (18-11, 10-6) opens the tournament Thursday against 11th-seeded Rhode Island (7-22, 2-14) in Richmond, Va. With a win, the Dukes would meet third-seeded Fordham (22-7, 11-5) in the quarterfinals.

After crawling to the finish line, Duquesne couldn't have asked for a more favorable draw.

The Dukes beat Rhode Island and Fordham twice this season and once in the past two weeks. Add St. Bonaventure, La Salle and Saint Louis into the equation and Duquesne is 6-2 this season against teams in its half of the tournament bracket.

"We match up well against the teams on our side of the bracket," first-year Dukes coach Dan Burt said. "But losing five of your last seven is never a good thing."

Burt pointed to three recent defeats in particular that stung. The Dukes lost a 22-point second-half lead against the Bonnies and a 10-point second-half lead against George Washington, and they were felled at the buzzer by Saint Joseph's.

"You win two out of three of those, and, all of the sudden, you're to 20 wins and you've got a couple top-50 wins there," Burt said.

Burt said the team's inability to close games has "left a bitter taste in our mouths," yet 20 wins, which Burt says is "the mark of a good team," is still within reach.

"To do that in my first year and tie the third-best mark in school history would be fantastic, but we're going to take it one game at a time," Burt said. "We're hoping to not only reach that 20-win mark but to surpass it. We have expectations that we're going to be playing for at least the next three weeks."

The Dukes have been led this season by a strong senior class.

Forward Wumi Agunbiade (16.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg) was named to the All-Atlantic 10 second team Tuesday, and guard Raegan Moore earned third-team honors.

Moore, who averaged 1.3 points per game in her first two seasons at Duquesne, finished this season close behind Agunbiade in the team scoring race and eighth in the conference at 14.6 points per game.

Burt said the senior class has a few goals still left on the table.

"They want to leave as the all-time wins leader by class, and they're three away from that," Burt said.

"They want to play in the NCAA tournament, which is something no one has done here at Duquesne. It is entirely possible because we do like our draw and we think we can get to the finals. Anything can happen once you get to the finals."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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