PITTSBURGH — Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt did not need long to think about how much he has enjoyed this season compared to others.
To date, this is not the season Duquesne has expected as it has 17 wins beside its name as opposed to the 20 it usually has at this time of year.
Duquesne’s inconsistencies have been well documented this season, but after an 80-64 victory over St. Bonaventure Saturday afternoon, the team now has a season-high five-game winning streak and is unquestionably playing its best basketball heading into first round play at the Atlantic 10 Championships.
“People will think that I’m crazy or sadistic, but I’ve enjoyed this year more than any other year save the NCAA Tournament season,” Burt said. “We’ve had a puzzle and it’s an incomplete puzzle and I’ve been trying to figure out how to put the pieces together. You can start to see how the pieces are going into the right spots. We still have a couple of loose pieces that we have to finish the puzzle.”
A big part of that puzzle has come with redshirt sophomore Halle Bovell being inserted into the starting lineup.
Bovell did not start Saturday because there were five senior being recognized, but including this win, Duquesne is now 6-1 since that decision was made and Burt firmly believes it saved the team’s season.
Duquesne also has Laia Sole and Angela Staffileno as post depth, while Eniko Kuttor added a season-high 12 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Sole recorded a double-double in her last game with extended minutes, a loss to Saint Louis and Staffileno scored eight points in as many minutes off the bench Saturday, with Duquesne running three straight plays for her.
That does not even include Paige Cannon who played five minutes, Amanda Kalin who normally starts and Libby Bazelak who was the same and recorded a +22 in 21 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s contest.
“It was really nice to see everyone was scoring and making contributions,” Duquesne senior guard Julijana Vojinovic said. “You never know what moment at the end of the season that someone has to step up. We are already there to start and just keep going game by game.”
St. Bonaventure was able to cut Duquesne’s advantage to four points, but after that, the Dukes outscored the Bonnies by a 41-21 margin.
Simply put, Duquesne is deep, playing together and enjoying itself, all of which are dangerous in a conference tournament.
“For anyone that’s watched us, we’re obviously in the flow, we’re in a rhythm,” said Burt. “I feel really good about March.”
It is clear the morale is up for Duquesne and look no further than Saturday’s pregame shoot around where 14 of the 16 players on the team stayed on the floor shooting for 20-30 minutes.
“I certainly haven’t loved the losses and some of the turmoil we’ve had but I’ve enjoyed them more than anything,” Burt said. “I know I don’t want it to end anytime soon. I feel fresh and I think the kids feel fresh.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Duquesne’s victory allows it to be the third seed in the Atlantic 10 championship, with the top two seeds VCU and Fordham exempt from playing Tuesday as per conference rules.
This means that Duquesne will take on the team which had the least regular season success in A-10 play and that is Rhode Island.
La Salle entered Saturday with a worse conference mark but defeated George Mason in overtime with Rhode Island falling to UMass. With the two teams tied, the tiebreaker came down to head-to-head contests between the two, which is where the Explorers held the upper hand.
This is the third season in which the 3-through-8 seeds host contests against the 9-through-14 seeds on campus sites. So far the home teams have won all of these contests, proving that there is a reward for those who fared better during regular season play.
Earlier in the season, Duquesne won a 75-58 road game at Rhode Island, but that result, much like regular season play loses meaning.
“I don’t think that means anything what seed you are because anyone can beat anyone on any day,” Duquesne senior guard Chassidy Omogrosso said. “Regardless of what you come into the tournament seeded as, you’ve got to be ready to play. We didn’t have our best regular season and we know that, but we are playing our best basketball into March.”
In a sense, there was some emotion behind senior day, one in which Burt was able to remove his seniors from the game separately so each got an ovation, but given that Duquesne is hosting a campus site game Tuesday and is hosting the championship Friday through Sunday, there was not much of a feeling of finality.
DUNN-MARTIN CHANNELS CURRY
Duquesne men’s basketball redshirt sophomore guard Tavian Dunn-Martin fired a three-point shot and when it dropped to put his Dukes down two points to the visiting UMass Minutemen, he celebrates high-fiving some of the season-ticket holders before going back to his team’s huddle.
Dunn-Martin was feeling it all game long as he scored a career-high 30 points and matches his best assist total with six points as Duquesne rallied from 11 points down, to earn an 80-73 victory over UMass.
“I think I was feeling it early, after I made my first two, they did a good job of finding me and getting me open,” he said. “A lot of the assists came when I was driving and Eric was cutting backdoor. We work on that a lot in practice and there were a lot of open looks, so that is what got me the assists.”
Dunn-Martin mind you was one of the two players who came to Akron with coach Keith Dambrot and after the game the two shared an embrace of sorts.
“His whole life he has battled for respect,” Dambrot said. “He made some unbelievable plays tonight. We made 100 plays for him in a row for him and he made some bombs, some tough shots. I like him, he’s a nice kid.”
The old adage is that “respect is earned, not given” and Dunn-Martin made a short-handed UMass team remember his name. Really, he did not give them a choice.
“I wouldn’t have brought him here if I didn’t think he was good,” said Dambrot. “I was the only one really recruiting him out of high school because everyone thought he was too small. He has always been around basketball and was the all-time leading scorer at his high school which includes Patrick Patterson who is an NBA guy. If you can play like that at that size you’re special.
FIND A WAY
Fouling was the game within the game Saturday as the officiating crew, which consisted of Mike Nance, Edwin Young and Donnie Eppley blew their whistled a total of 51 times.
This certainly irked the fans and put both teams in unique spots.
About halfway through the second half, both Dunn-Martin and backup point guard Brandon Wade picked up their fourth fouls,
It’s really hard because you don’t know which way it’s going to go,” Duquesne redshirt sophomore center Michael Hughes said of adjusting to the game. “You have to figure that out.”
Hughes picked his spots for those few moments when the officials allowed for some leeway but Duquesne still was able to make the most of the fouls as it took 36 free throws as UMass’s Sy Chatman and Rashaan Holloway both fouled out.
The fouls certainly extended the game, which may have benefited Duquesne in that UMass has struggled just getting enough bodies to practice and perhaps the Minutemen got tired.
Duquesne had reason to be tired as well, playing five of its seven February games on the road.
“We looked tired to me,” said Dambrot. “We’ve given them two days off a week for the last month, which no one in the country does that. We’ve practiced very minimally. Teams go in streaks. They hit the wall at different times and I felt we were a bit frazzled and uptight really.”
Ultimately, Duquesne made enough plays and turned defense into offense, which helped secure the victory.
Sincere Carry remains day-to-day with his knee injury and was on the team bench for Saturday’s game.
“We need Sincere, he gives it his all every night,” Dunn-Martin said. “We need everybody on the team but he is a big key to this team.”
THEY SAID IT
“We were mediocre at best. They just beasted us on the boards and we didn’t have any answers. We were juiceless, we had enough to win. I give our guys credit, they find ways to fall behind but find ways to win.” – Dambrot on Saturday’s win
“These five kids have scored over 4,700 points and you’re not going to find a whole lot of classes that will ever do that. I know what they want to accomplish in March and it is the same thing we all want to accomplish.” – Burt