Duquesne: It comes down to 2 games for Dukes
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The Duquesne men's basketball team has an expansive and broad, yet defined focus this week: Win two games -- against St. Bonaventure tonight and Fordham Friday -- and get a home game in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament next week.
The first step toward such an achievement begins with a narrow focus tonight: Find a way to stop St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson.
"And that isn't going to be easy," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "He is a guy who can change a program, he is that good. He's one of the guys in this league who will be a pro eventually."
Matchup: Duquesne (15-13, 6-8 Atlantic 10) vs. St. Bonaventure (13-14, 6-8), 7 p.m. today, Reilly Center, Olean, N.Y.
Radio, Internet: KQV-AM (1410); GoDuquesne.com.
Duquesne: Is 5-3 in its past eight games and coming off a streak in which it won three in a row before losing at Saint Louis. ... Junior swingman Damian Saunders leads Division I in steals at 2.9 per game and his 80 steals already have broken the school single-season record of 71 he set last year in 34 games. ... Is 5-0 this year in games decided by three points or fewer.
St. Bonaventure: Is on a three-game win streak, the first in conference play since the 2001-02 season. ... Senior guard Jonathan Hall, who is averaging 13.4 points per game, averaged 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the Bonnies' three wins last week on the way to earning conference co-player of the week.
Hidden stat: Duquesne has won nine of the past 12 meetings between the schools.
When the Dukes (15-13, 6-8) travel to Olean, N.Y., tonight to face the Bonnies (13-14, 6-8) in the penultimate conference game of this regular season, there is little question the primary focal point for Everhart's team will be Nicholson, a 6-foot-9 Canadian sophomore who has a proclivity for shining brightest when Duquesne attempts to guard him.
Last season's Atlantic 10 rookie of the year, Nicholson is averaging 25.3 points and nine rebounds on 68.9 percent shooting in three career games against Duquesne. He has scored 29 points each of the past two times against the Dukes.
This year, he leads the Bonnies in scoring (15.8 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 per game) and is atop the conference in field-goal percentage at .573.
What makes this guy so good?
In basketball terms, Nicholson has what the guys playing those games on the concrete courts at the city park in the summer would call an "old-man game."
Make no mistake, it is a term of endearment, as it is used to describe a guy who is crafty around the bucket, is a money-in-the-bank finisher when he gets it in close, but can also step out and hit the 10- to 12-foot jumper with regularity.
And he also has a way of knowing precisely how to play the angles when a ball comes off the rim to position himself in order to snare a rebound.
"He is a throwback big guy, definitely" Everhart said of Nicholson. "He does a lot of things really well around the basket. He demands a lot of attention and has a great touch. What he does is really change the game because you have to prepare differently for him. He can really score, he can really pass it and he can run the floor."
He could also ruin those chances of a Duquesne home game in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, which begins Tuesday.
If the Dukes win tonight and then again Friday, they would secure an eighth-place finish in the 14-team league, with the top four teams getting byes in the first round, the next four getting home games, the following four having to go on the road in the first round and the bottom two teams missing the postseason tournament.
After an 0-4 start in conference play, the Dukes have funneled the season into this two-game stretch and are coming off a hot streak in which they were victorious in three of their past four games.
"Our destiny is still in our hands," Everhart said. "For as many struggles as we have been through this year, I am excited that we are in the position that we are in.
"Right now, we are in a situation where we are in a two-game season and we have to try to make the most of it."
First Published March 3, 2010 12:00 am