Throughout this season, the Duquesne Women’s Basketball Team has been involved in close games with nine being decided by 11 points or less, but its 70-69 victory Thursday night against Dayton was important in a variety of ways.
Most recently, Duquesne had held a lead at Rhode Island with three minutes left and were unable to hold it.
Since that game, Ayanna Townsend got injured and was unavailable for Dayton and Precious Johnson picked up foul trouble in the second quarter.
To add to that, Tess Myers did not connect from three-point range and all six of Megan McConnell’s points came from the free-throw line.
Though Dayton is a team in transition, Duquesne learned how to win when a lot of variables were not going its way, which becomes even more important as the team realizes that games like these will be prevalent across the Atlantic 10 slate.
“Last year, we lost 13 times by two possessions or less in last minutes of games,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “It speaks to the maturity of our players. We’re finding ways to win. We have to understand how tough and physical it is, and we have to fight a lot of that tonight. We could manage our shot selection a little better late in game, especially when the other team has five fouls and we’re going to go to the free throw line every time.”
With Duquesne shorthanded without both Townsend as well as Olivia Westphal, the team opted to play zone, which maybe has played 10% of the time and also surprise Dayton by pressing from the opening tip.
Tired legs were a direct result of this tenacious defense. Dayton certainly took advantage of that and was hungry to find a result, but despite all of the above factors, Duquesne’s maturity and ability to consistently seek one more play, led to a win.
When Burt twice called timeout, there was intent behind both.
For one, it was to try and derail Dayton’s momentum, but more importantly it gave his players a rest from sitting down and guarding so intensely.
This year’s team has provided a different feel feeling in comparison to the past couple of editions.
“Our team emphasizes confidence and playing with an edge this year,” junior guard/forward Amaya Hamilton stated. “Last year it was kind of finding ourselves, but this year with a lot of us being veterans, we know who we are, we know what to expect and we’re going out there to fight for every game.”
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
When Johnson picked up her third foul with 7:36 remaining in the second quarter, she sat out the remainder of the half and it was up to Hamilton to anchor the post.
The numbers show Dayton as a +12 in rebounds, with that entire differential being from the offensive side.
It admittedly took time to adjust to the physicality game, but Hamilton found a way.
“I definitely feel like I have tried to expand my game,” said Hamilton. “Last year I feel like I was too focused on shooting and being a guard. I can get those inside baskets to get my confidence going and that really has helped me out. (Defensively) it was a matter of finding a counter and realizing what was going on and building off of that.”
Hamilton scored 21 points and posted a career-high 13 rebounds, and she was a difficult guard off the dribble. She has driven the basketball at a significantly higher rate and even when cut off can maintain her dribble.
Burt stated that as long as the other guards along the arc continue to move and find the proper passing angles, Hamilton can have success as she can facilitate in an effort to set up good looks.
Reilly Sunday also may have had her best effort in a Duquesne uniform scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds in 14 minutes, where the stats may not truly reveal her impact.
Duquesne stuck with her, for the largest minutes she has amassed since Nov. 27 and she battled when the team needed that effort most.
While Burt felt Johnson’s third foul was as clean as Ivory soap, it came down to coming back in during the third quarter and producing with her arms straight up, which she did.
“I knew we were one man down, and my contribution was important for our success,” said Johnson. “I had to take on that role, so it was leaning on my teammates and being comfortable of knowing that they’re going to be there to support me.”
A CHANGE IN MENTALITY
Throughout the playing careers of Duquesne’s returning players, there has been an effort to change mentality.
A lot of times the team appeared to be hopeful to be on the court and find a result. Perhaps that is another reason why close games were not going their way.
“That was really what I talked about in practice, you’re either going to get hit, or you’re going to be the hitter,” he said. “We’re not hopeful anymore, we have an air, a little bit of confidence to us, but we’re still not a hunter yet. To get to that hunting stage, we’ve got to take another little jump.”