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Duquesne will settle position in final stretch

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 01:02

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Em Gorham/The Duquesne Duke

On Wednesday night, the Dukes did what has come to be expected from them this season. They beat a team they should beat, but it came down to a closer finish than they may have liked, as they let a 17-point lead slip to 1-point midway through the second half.

As the Dukes pulled away and secured a 77-67 win over Fordham, they pulled one game above .500 in conference play with five games to play.

What remains to be seen now is what the Dukes will do in their final conference games to separate into the cream of the crop.

The red and blue have developed an identity of beating the teams they should beat, but have really struggled against the top teams in the conference.

On the road, the Dukes have faltered badly, falling 78-50 to Xavier early last month, and 10 days later, putting up a measly 41 points in a 68-41 beat down against Saint Louis.

Against the teams sitting in the middle of the pack, the Dukes have had varied success. At home, the Dukes held Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure to 11 points and six rebounds. But last weekend on the road, Nicholson torched the Dukes for 21 points and 23 rebounds in a crushing 69-48 Bonnies victory.

They have strong wins over UMass and Dayton, the latter on the road, but also slipped in the final 10 minutes against La Salle and St. Joseph's, who sit just ahead of Duquesne in the conference standings. 

What their season to this point has told us is honestly hard to decipher. The scoring has been steady from B.J. Monteiro (14.2 points per game) and Sean Johnson (14.7). T.J. McConnell has poured in a team-high 13.2 points per game in their conference play, and, as is customary from him, he has an impressive 2.9 steals per game this season and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Everhart would like his team identity be more defense-defined, like he saw in his players in the final minutes against Fordham. 

"[I want to see] exactly what I saw in the last six minutes tonight, guys coming over in the timeout and talking about, ‘We've got to have a stop. Let's dig in,'" Everhart said. "When guys are talking about in the huddle, ‘We don't need any more baskets,  we just need stops and rebounds,' I get excited about that."

The Dukes have faced the third toughest conference schedule of any Atlantic 10 team to this point, but match-ups against Temple Saturday and Saint Louis to close the regular season March 3 loom large. 

What they do with the games they have left will decide the fate of a team that could potentially make a push in Atlantic City for the conference tournament, but would benefit best by finishing the conference schedule  strongly to snag a good seed, or a potential first-round bye, if they can claim a top-4 spot.

Monteiro, who poured the team's season-high 30 points against Fordham, outlined his approach to the final stretch. 

"I think we can play with anybody. I think we can beat anybody, and I think any team can beat us," Monteiro said. "We have just got to come out a little more focused, especially on the road ... and protect our home court the rest of the way."

What stands in between the Temple and St. Louis matchups may determine what the Dukes look like as the teams enter postseason play. If the red and blue can handle their business and drop Dayton (16-9, 6-5) for the second time this season and beat George Washington (9-16, 4-7 check) and Charlotte (12-12, 4-7).

The remainder of the season is uncertain, but for Everhart's squad, they are never down and out.

"Our guys have bounced off the mat a couple of times this year … and that's a good thing," Everhart said.

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