Pittsburgh, PA — Following a two-game road trip, the Duquesne Dukes, faced a VCU team it had already battled once this season, but struggled to maintain control and finish off the young Rams.
Ultimately, Duquesne was able to put forth a stronger second half to the game and secure an 80-71 victory Wednesday night to improve to 20-4 overall and remain in second place in the Atlantic 10 with a 10-1 conference record.
“We were able to gut out a win against a team that I think is better than their 5-18 record indicates,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “They are very talented, just young. I’m going to have to play them in two years and I am not looking forward to that.
The loss drops VCU to 5-18 overall and 2-9 in Atlantic 10 play.
“This is what the A-10 Conference is all about,” VCU coach Beth O’Boyle said. “You have a battle that comes down to the last few minutes. I was really proud of my team today and their defensive effort from the start set the tone and then it helped ignite our offense. It was a team effort and I am excited about where we’re headed.”
Tera Reed led VCU with a career-high 27 points and six assists after starting 0-for-3 from the field.
“She’s a really difficult cover and a six-foot guard that can take it off the bounce,” said O’Boyle. “She can shoot it from the outside and has that nice pull-up.”
Duquesne has now won at least 20 games in nine of the past 10 seasons.
Third quarter comeback
For the eighth time this season, Duquesne had to play from behind at halftime and Kadri-Ann Lass was quick to point to the reason why.
“I don’t like saying it, but I feel we were a little soft in the beginning,” she said. “We picked it up, but the first half we made uncharacteristic mistakes and let them score a lot in the paint. The mistakes should not happen as much as they did.”
In the locker room, Eniko Kuttor explained that there was no panic, just reinforcement.
“I feel we got out of that ‘soft’ part and stuck together,” Kuttor said while gesturing air quotes. “When we went to the locker room at halftime, we talked about sticking together. From that our team defense just got better and from defense came offense.”
VCU was able to maintain its lead for over half of the quarter, but then Julijana Vojinovic nailed a 3-point shot from beyond the left side of the arc to place Duquesne in front.
— Duquesne WBB (@DuqWBB) February 8, 2018
VCU was coming up empty on some of its offensive possessions which O’Boyle considered a no-no given Duquesne’s offensive ability.
“When you’re teaching young players to play hard, the natural reaction is to start to play faster,” said O’Boyle. “We were playing harder, which was great, but those were a couple of big travel calls we had back-to-back and we had empty possessions. That speed of play in some respect, hurt us.”
VCU’s goal on defense was to slow down Duquesne on the offensive end by providing different defensive looks, but Duquesne shot 58.8% from the field in the third quarter, which was its highest percentage of the evening, while holding VCU to 40% from the field which was the low mark of the evening.
“We sometimes forget that post touches are also ways to get shots for our guards,” Lass said. “Everyone knows our guards are very good and if we get touches, that gets the defense a little looser on them. Once establish an inside game, even driving in and passing out, that’s when we’re best. It is how we should always look to play.”
Kuttor back on track
She may not possess green hair, but Duquesne’s Dennis Rodman made her presence known on the court Wednesday night.
Rodman, better known on the Duquesne campus as Eniko Kuttor scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field, pulled down 11 rebounds and added three assists to zero turnovers on the evening.
“I was really low throughout the past 2-3 weeks, it wasn’t good at all,” Kuttor admitted. “I didn’t really have confidence in myself. This game helped me a lot.”
It was clear how much this game meant to Kuttor as she smiled often in the postgame press conference and reflecting on her past three weeks momentarily appeared near tears.
From the beginning of the game, Kuttor passed with purpose, properly executed cuts and put up shots that fit both and her team’s gameplan.
Following the team’s two previous home games, Burt expressed disappointment in Kuttor’s production, but could not have been happier for his six-foot-one Hungarian forward.
“It’s key not just for tonight but for the rest of the season,”said Burt. “We are really happy to have her back Eni struggled with her confidence and that affected her minutes. We had a nice sit-down chat and it certainly has turned around.”
Between the discussion and these past three weeks, Kuttor came to a realization that she now looks to build off of.
“It helps a lot but I realize that it is all about the practices,” said Kuttor. “In practice, I just have to have a different kind of mentality than what I’ve had the past three weeks and the game will come.”
1. Part of the reason for some early struggles may have been Conor Richardson’s absence. While others may score more, it was quite noticeable that she missed this game.
Richardson is out for an undisclosed reason and her date of return is unknown. This is her second consecutive game in which she did not play and Richardson did not fly with the team for Sunday afternoon’s game against Richmond.
“She is one of our captains,” Burt said. “She leads by example and by her word by what she does on and off the floor. She is so aggressive defensively, that’s a lot right there. She doesn’t get enough credit for the fact that she can score. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of production out of Libby (Bazelak) or Amanda (Kalin) and that showed in the performance. If we have Conor in the game, I feel we’re going to get more offensive production. She has sacrificed her individual game for her team success. She has learned what is a good shot versus not a good shot. She has had a lot of growth in the three years that we’ve had her.”
It is also worth noting that Anie-Pier Samson also missed her second consecutive game for an undisclosed reason. Her return date also is unknown.
2. Julijana Vojinovic scored a career-high 28 points in this game, but it almost feels as though that is burying the lede to her night.
During halftime, Burt challenged Vojinovic more than he ever previously had.
“I got tired of Juca closing out and thinking she was really defending,” Burt said. “It was fake toughness. I got after her more than I’ve ever gotten after her.”
Vojinovic also added seven assists on the night, the high total from either team. This mentality was infectious as Duquesne had 21 assists on 28 makes from the field.
“It’s great when you have a lot of assists because it means you’re playing for each other,” said Vojinovic. “They kept switching how they guarded me but they doubled or hard-hedged so I knew when the post player rolled down, they would be wide open because of their help side. I had to score my points but when I see them doubling me, I’m not going to keep dribbling.”
Vojinovic also went 12-14 from the line, though some of it came in garbage time. She joked in the press conference that she wished she had made all 14.
As far as the 28 points were concerned, part of it certainly was aided by the free throws. Vojinovic has been regularly keyed on during opposing scouting reports to the point that several coaches has shown frustration each time she makes a three.
Vojinovic certainly has the attention of everyone in the conference and efforts such as these will not change that.
3. Coming into another silent locker room after Wednesday’s win, Lass did not even think she had a good game, until the coaching staff came into the room.
It was then that Lass realized she had her fourth double-double in the last six games with 13 points and 10 rebounds but also had five assists against one turnover and added six blocks.
“It definitely helps me in a sense when I feel like I can’t score or get any rebounds,” she said. “I just try to do something else. I know I can help my team in many different ways. Our team is the type of team where we need everyone and what you can give at that time.”
4. Duquesne has now won 17 consecutive home games, a streak which dates back to Jan. 18 of last year. The streak is onlt behind the 19 amassed from Dec. 3 2014-Jan. 10 2016.
“Tonight in the locker room was maybe the first time I’ve said it this year,” Burt said. “I think when people come here, they see the banners, know we’re a good basketball team and there’s a level of comfort with playing at home. Tonight was a tough crowd but we have really good fans that invest in our program that are loud and cheer. We’ve found a way to be successful at home, I don’t know what it is, but it seems to work.”
Putting a forward spin on it, the winning has been aided by a fan base, many of whom including Murderer’s Row has not missed a game during this stretch.
Duquesne certainly has a following of women’s basketball fans and it is something men’s basketball coack Keith Dambrot is familiar with as he asked Burt prior to the season if he wanted to play some doubleheader in an effort for both to maximize the amount of fans that attend the game.
Saturday, Duquesne will have another doubleheader, with the women playing the second game against Saint Joseph’s.
Normally with doubleheaders the women’s teams play first, but Saturday will make three of four doubleheaders the ladies will be the closing game.
“It’s nice when you are the women’s team and you are playing the second half of the doubleheader and not the early game,” said Burt. “I thank Coach Dambrot for doing that and understanding that women’s basketball is important here also. He’s been a real gentleman to our program and I appreciate that very much. We’ll never be satisfied until this place is sold out on an every night basis and people might scoff at that, but I believe that can happen. It may take another 3-5 years but eventually that’s going to happen here. That’s one of my goals personally as I stay here at Duquesne.”
5. Two years ago as Duquesne was making a run which ultimately led to the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history many fans and media alike declared the Dukes, Pittsburgh’s best team.
With Duquesne achieving similar success and again having a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, this narrative has returned and Burt is more than willing to provide his two cents.
“We’re clearly the best team in the city,” he said. “We play in a very good basketball team in the league, we have a good RPI, we’re 20-4, we are ready to take on any opponent any time, anywhere. That’s not being cocky, and I know it comes across that way, but the numbers don’t lie; we’re the best team in the city.”
Two more VCU points
1. VCU has had to go through an unenviable task these past couple of road games facing Dayton and Duquesne in succession.
VCU came into Wednesday night with some confidence after outscoring Dayton 28-15 in the fourth quarter and led for 11:04 of this game, with a relatively young team.
For O’Boyle, one thing stuck out from this road stretch.
“We’re right there with them,” she said. “To grind out wins like that, especially on the road, your intensity and attention to detail just have to be on point. It’s all positives for us and now we come back and have St. Bonaventure at home Sunday.”
2. While Reed set a career-high in points, O’Boyle was also extremely pleased with center Danielle Hammond’s play.
With a young team, it can be hard to play a full 40 minute game and admittedly it is still a work in progress with this VCU team, but Hammond scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added five rebounds, four of which were offensive.
“(Hammond) is really developing,” O’Boyle said. “She is a sophomore who really is a freshman out there. We were saying to get the ball inside to her because she was making things happen. We really have been trying to compete for 40 minutes. The pace is much faster than they’re used to and we keep learning that every time we step out onto the floor.”
Atlantic 10 scoreboard & standings
La Salle 87 Saint Louis 76– Clinging to a small lead, La Salle got the better end of a high-scoring first quarter by a 35-26 margin. Adreanna Miller matched her season-high with 25 points while Shalina Miller recorded a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Though the game was close for much of the way, La Salle never trailed after the 1:26 mark of the first quarter and closed the game 16-for-16 in the fourth quarter from the free throw line.
— La Salle Athletics (@GoExplorers) February 8, 2018
Saint Joseph’s 64 Rhode Island 46– After a scoreless four minutes to open this contest, Saint Joseph’s opened up its scoring with 17 first quarter points and holding Rhode Island to 16 points at halftime. Senior guard/forward Chelsea Woods scored 20 points in 21 minutes of play, which led all scorers. Rhode Island shot 29.8% from the field for the game.
— Saint Joseph's WBB (@SJUHawks_WBB) February 8, 2018
George Washington 65 George Mason 61– George Washington swept the Revolutionary Rivalry and in the process earned its longest win streak of the season at three games. Junior Kelsi Mahoney tied a career-high of 17 points. This victory also has GW above .500 for the first time this season. Freshman Lexus Levy also made an impact in this game with her nine bench points. Natalie Butler earned her 24th consecutive double-double which is the fourth longest streak in NCAA D-I history and it is her 50th career double-double.
— GW Womens Basketball (@GW_WBB) February 7, 2018
Dayton 78 UMass 49– UMass had a 3-0 lead in this game but the advantage was quickly negated as Dayton ran away with the victory to remain undefeated in Atlantic 10 play. Junior Lauren Cannatelli led Dayton with 26 points while senior Alex Harris recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. JaVonna Layfield also was a key contributor with 12 points and 17 rebounds. Dayton won the rebounding battle 56-41 overall and grabbed 22 offensive boards.
— Dayton Women's Hoops (@DaytonWBB) February 8, 2018
Here is a current look at the conference standings following Wednesday’s games. The top two teams at regular season’s end will earn first round byes in the Atlantic 10 Championships. Seeds 3-8 will each host first round games Feb. 27 with the six winning teams joining the two top seeds in Richmond, VA for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals which will occur Mar. 2-4.
Duquesne will host Saint Joseph’s Saturday afternoon with the opening tip expected to come at 2:30. Duquesne beat Saint Joseph’s Jan. 24 by a 61-42 score. This was Duquesne’s first win at Saint Joseph’s after losing each of the 27 prior road contests. The January meeting was also when Kadri-Ann Lass set Duquesne’s all-time blocks record. Duquesne has won the past two games between these teams but the Hawks are 14-7 in games played in Pittsburgh.