PITTSBURGH — It has been a tough year for the Duquesne women’s basketball team between close losses, serious injuries and a COVID-19 related pause, but following a 71-63 victory Thursday night over Rhode Island at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, multiple players stormed the court in celebration.
“So we’re home,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “It feels good to be 1-0.”
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Duquesne, which led at halftime, for the first time all season, now has tied its longest winning streak of the season at two games, and did so against a Rhody team which entered with the third-best conference record in the Atlantic 10.
“I feel like we’ve gotten into a very good rhythm and through the struggles of losing so many games at the beginning it’s made us stronger and brought us closer together,” sophomore center Precious Johnson. “That’s what made us work so hard now and easier to work together the way that we have.”
BACK IN FORM
When discussing Precious Johnson, Burt admitted he did not know what to expect after she missed both weekend contests at George Washington or George Mason.
It was hard to tell on Thursday as Johnson was a +21 in her 25 minutes, scoring a career-high 20 points and adding nine rebounds.
“It felt good being back,” Johnson said. “It’s really hard sitting on the bench and not give the minutes you want to. I focused on giving my all this game and that I deserved the minutes I got.”
In her short Duquesne career, Johnson now has two of three games in which she has achieved a double-figure point total against Rhode Island.
Johnson was able to play physically and even when Megan McConnell kicked to her for a wide-open jump shot, she was ready and made it.
“Precious played a really good game, especially down low on the block,” said Burt. “She scored with some high hands around her and some physical contact. Precious had not been able to play for quite a while, and really we didn’t know what we were going to get out of her tonight. She had been winded in practice after a drill or two and is not in the condition she needs to be which is not her fault. That is the situation we are facing when you are dealing with COVID and protocols. I am incredibly happy for her because you won’t find a better human being.”
By no means was Duquesne’s defensive effort pretty, but in the second half, Emmanuelle Tahane, who Rhode Island’s offense ran through in the first half, was held to four shots and as a team shot 34.4% from the field in the game’s closing 20 minutes versus 48.1% in the first half.
Duquesne did concede eight three-point shots, which it would admit is far from clinical but enough encouraging signs were present to feel optimistic.
“We contested a lot of shots,” Burt said. “We talk always about making all and giving none which is anything inside that half-circle we want to make every one and not give any up. We were far from perfect, but were good enough to get the win.”
ONE MORE TIME?
Though Duquesne has six seniors and graduate students, just two were honored as part of senior day in sisters Caroline and Kiersten Elliott. There was no one else honored which could potentially mean that all could come back next season.
Caroline is a redshirt sophomore and has graduated with a job lined up and Kiersten is graduating with her masters and choice of several jobs.
Both had the opportunity to start and immediately made an impact as Kiersten found Caroline for the latter’s first-ever basket in a Duquesne uniform. It also was the team’s first-ever basket at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
Kiersten to Caroline for Duquesne's first points at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse?
— Duquesne Women's Basketball (@DuqWBB) February 18, 2021
Kiersten started her time at Duquesne as a walkon where after two seasons she was surprised with a full scholarship and in the 10 games she has played, five times it was as a starter.
Would I have liked to play the Elliott sisters more? Absolutely, but we had to win the game and ride our hot hands.
“(Kiersten) is the epitome of what a Duquesne women’s basketball player is,” Burt said. “Her younger sister came two years later and was the exact same thing. I wish we could get them more playing time. I can’t thank them and their family enough for allowing them to play here at Duquesne. I love both of them to death.”