PITTSBURGH — It was an eerily quiet Sunday at the Power Center on Duquesne University’s campus as the team tried to figure out how for the second time in as many attempts the women’s basketball team lost a lead in the fourth quarter to George Washington.
The disappointment was evident in the room as coach Dan Burt walked into the room.
“Coach Burt came up and told us he knew that we take this seriously and that we cared which in itself made him feel more comfortable,” redshirt senior Paige Cannon said. “He told us we had to move on and that we had to think about Fordham. He was right.”
For his part, Burt walked into the gym and repeated what he had said in the previous day’s postgame press conference, taking blame for Duquesne not being prepared enough but he left a clear message, that the team was going to look forward.
Tuesday night’s game against Fordham could easily have been a contest that was marked on the calendar just because of what happened a year ago when the Rams came to the Palumbo Center which hosted the Atlantic 10 Championship and put on a semifinal shooting clinic which left Duquesne searching for answers. Fordham convincingly won that game by a 76-34 score and ultimately won the conference championship game.
It is safe to say that the returning players did not forget about the result.
Regardless, Duquesne was ready for Fordham quite simply because it was the next opponent and the Dukes won a 74-63 contest.
“I would say basically all of us came into this game with a chip on our shoulders,” said Cannon. “It was clearly a tough game last year, but regardless of that, losing to George Washington last game, we wanted to get a win. It didn’t matter who we were playing. We just came out and played tough which won us the game.”
Basketball can be a funny games at times considering how Duquesne experienced what it likely would consider one of its lowpoints of the season with a complete 180 occurring just 72 hours later.
“The loss against GW was really disappointing,” Cannon said. “We came back and executed our gameplan really well tonight. We did what we needed to do and played a heck of a basketball game. To be able to bounce back from that, we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder from that game and we want to win and know we can. A lot of our losses have been so close, so we know we are capable of winning against anyone which made tonight so special. We beat one of the top teams in the A-10 and bounced back.”
Duquesne’s victory helps it cause as it moves one step closer towards hosting an Atlantic 10 Championship. Coming into play Tuesday, it was tied with Davidson, Massachusetts and Richmond for fifth place, though due to head-to-head tiebreakers, Duquesne was in the eighth and final spot for hosting a campus site game next Tuesday in Atlantic 10 Championship play. GW sits a game behind Duquesne, but would also leapfrog the Dukes by virtue of the tiebreaker pending Saturday’s results as that is the regular season finale for all 14 teams.
If you asked Burt, he would have desired a performance such as Tuesday’s a month prior, but by no means will he complain with his team’s play as the Atlantic 10 Championships approach.
“I believe anyone can win the Atlantic 10 Championship this year because the teams are so balanced,” he said. “We wanted to build so we would be playing our best basketball in the beginning of February and March. Right now we are at a very good place mentally and physically with our health. We are pretty close to playing our best basketball.”
A SPECIAL NIGHT
Throughout her interview, Cannon continued to use the word “special” to describe how the evening went for her team.
For starters, Fordham’s defense is statistically considered the best in the Atlantic 10, but Duquesne was the second conference opponent to exceed 70 points scored, while shooting an even 50% from the field.
Duquesne recorded 21 assists on 27 made shots and three players achieved double-figure point totals.
Defensively, Duquesne held Fordham to a sub-30% field goal percentage for each of the first three quarters.
Bre Cavanaugh entered play as the A-10’s leading scorer and while she scored above her average with 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting, Burt stated that he felt Cavanaugh had to fight to earn every point she had.
Kendell Heremaia also had a tough night earning her double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, but shot 4-of-23 from the field.
“They have a couple of kids that won’t shoot the ball, so you have to have the defender guarding them in the lane with two feet to muck up the lane,” he said. “In regards to those two outstanding players, we wanted to make them volume scorers and I feel like Bre had to work incredibly hard to get 23. That sounds crazy but I thought Nina Aho played a very good defensive basketball game tonight and really made it difficult for her to score.”
Fordham tends to take a lot of three-point shots which forced Duquesne to have a hand in the arc and close out, but what really required more defensive focus was the Rams offensively ability to create shots off the dribble and release quickly. The danger with such a quick release is the necessity to move in the air to meet Fordham in an effort to contest.
“We knew this was going to be a defensive game and we had to be aggressive defensively but also offensively,” said Cannon. “To be able to play them really tough defensively is exciting and promising for us. We can play some really good basketball and we need to play like that all of the time.”
Of course, senior day itself provides for a special occasion as family typically embraces each honored player. This year, Aho and Cannon were honored alongside Angela Staffileno.
While each senior made positive contributions to this game, Cannon stood out with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Cannon has been one of Duquesne’s most consistent performers in the last month and increased her scoring by 3.8 points per game a season ago.
“I think that’s just the evolution of her building confidence one good game after another and then understanding what she does well and focusing on that,” Burt said. “What she does well is she is a good standstill three-point shooter and when you close out very hard, she takes that one dribble and gets another look. She is effective posting on the block against smaller defenders and she’s a great quarterback for us from a defensive perspective.”
Though it was tough to acknowledge, Cannon admits that her time in a Duquesne uniform has nearly concluded, though she does not want it to end.
“At the end of the day, I can say that for the five years I’ve been here I have tried to put myself and my teammates in a position to win,” said Cannon. “Obviously it’s not always going to happen but I take a lot of pride in trying to do the right things. The fact I can have a pretty consistent and good season is good for me, but at the end of the day, it is also helping us win. That is really what matters most to me. It’s been a fun and special season. We’ve lost a few games for sure, but I feel like we can compete with anyone in the Atlantic 10 and that in itself is enough to get us far in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.”