Duquesne entered Saturday's game with a sense of accomplishment that had not been possible in decades.
The Dukes' 21-13 record in 2008-09, its second straight winning season, included the program's first postseason competition since 1994. Coach Ron Everhart's four year-record at Duquesne climbed over the .500 mark at 48-45. A heady accomplishment for a program that was 3-24 five years ago.
The Dukes, picked to finish 12th in Atlantic 10 Conference's 08-09 preseason poll coaches and media, surprised just about everyone when they rose from the number seven seed to the Conference Championship finals against Temple. The Owls won 69-64 getting the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Duquesne traveled to Virginia Tech for a first-round National Invitational Tournament (NIT) match. It took two overtimes before the Atlantic Coast Conference's team was able to overcome the Dukes who were led by senior Aaron Jackson's 46 points, the fourth-highest total in school history.
The previous year (2007-08) 17-13 finish matched DU's last winning season mark in 1994-94; a team that was was 1-1 in the NIT.
The last time Duquesne had 21 wins was in 1971 (21-4). Coach Red Mannings' Dukes finished the season ranked 15th by AP and 18th by UPI.
This season the Dukes are projected to finish fifth, tied with defending champion Temple, in the 14-team league. Juniors Damian Saunders and Bill Clark were named preseason second and third team all-conference respectively. Last season, the A-10 omitted Jackson from the preseason honors but corrected itself with a first team selection and the Most Improved Player honor. The Connecticut native is now competing with Antalya of the Turkish Basketball League.
Tonight's opponent, La Roche College, is a Division III Pittsburgh team. They return four starters but have just two players taller than 6-foot-4. The Redhawks were picked for fifth in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference preseason poll. La Roche was 14-12 last season, 10-8 in the 11-team AMCC.
- Redshirt freshman forward. Rodrigo Peggau's recovery from season-ending right knee surgery last December looks to be on track. Peggau, a Brazilian native, had five rebounds and seven points in six first half minutes by going perfect from the floor (2-2) including a trey, and from the foul line (2-2). He finished with 10 points and six rebounds. The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder did not commit a foul.
- Freshman Sean Johnson demonstrated his ability to cut through defenses to score and was sharp from the outside. Johnson scored 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. The Queens County native (N.Y.) added three rebounds and one assist without committing a turnover or a foul in 15 minutes of action.
- All Dukes in uniform saw action. The final scholarship substutute was junior David Theis, who entered the contest at the 13:03 point of the second half. Freshman walk-on Salim Fauras, from Geneva, Switzerland, entered with 64 seconds left, long enough to make one of two fee throw attempts.
- Sophomore Oliver Lewinson, who had five rebounds in seven minutes, was the only Duke who did not score.
- Sophomores Morakinyo Williams (Mike) and B.J. Monteiro did not dress for the game. Williams, who is recovering from a minor procedure, is expected to be cleared for practice shortly. Monteiro is suspended for this game and the opener resulting from a burglary indictment that was not prosecuted by Connecticut authorities.
- Sophomore Damian Saunders led the Dukes with 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. In the second half, he signaled the Duquesne bench that he 'needed' a rest. This was after he missed two more free throws (0-4) and was probably more due to disappointment more than tiredness. Later, he demonstrated the determination he is known for by tracking down a loose ball, after LRC apparently had gained possesion, and diving to the floor to force a held ball with the arrow going Duquesne's way.
- Saunders, an A-10 All-Rookie teamer as a frosh and an All-Conference honorable mention last season, accounted for six straight points in a 40-second period. The first four came from his pair of steals which he raced down the floor for a fastbreak dunk and fastbreak layup. Saunders' defensive rebound and court-wide pass to David Theis for another fastbreak layup completed the streak.
- One segment of Duquesne play that didn't work as planned was the free throw line. The Dukes made 20-of-42 for 47.6 percent, a half-point above their overall shooting (33-70). La Roche was 14-of-25 for 56.0%. Only two players were better than .500 from the line: sophomore Eric Evans and redshirt freshman Rodrigo Peggau.
- Duquesne committed just four turnovers, one in the opening 20 minutes. Duquesne steals accounted for 11 of La Roche's 21 turnovers.
- The starting lineup (senior Jason Duty, juniors Bill Clark and Damian Saunders and sophomores Eric Evans and Melquan Bolding) seems set for the early schedule. The rotation off the bench wasn't evident from this game. Williams and Monteiro won't be available until November 17th when the Dukes take on Iowa in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic ESPNU game. Tonight the first subs were freshmen Sean Johnson and Andre Marhold, redshirt freshman Rodrigo Peggau and junior walk-on Lucas Newton.
- Last year the Dukes played two exhibitions, gaining 93-71 win over St.Vincent and an 84-53 victory against Seton Hill. The season also opened on the second Friday in November resulting in an 84-55 "W" past High Point.
- George Von Benko alerted the RedZoneMedia.com audience to be on the lookout for a Sporting News story on Coach Ron Everhart by native Pittsburgher Mike DeCourcy.
- Former Pittsburgh Pirates player and announcer, and Duquesne's Sports Information Director, golf coach and announcer Nellie King's book "Happiness is like a Cur Dog: The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Baseball Pitcher and Broadcaster" has just been published. It's available at AuthorHouse.com as well other online booksellers.