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Duquesne University
Basketball: La Salle holds off Dukes' second-half rally, 71-66

Sunday, March 02, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Logic suggested the Duquesne Dukes would come into their game against La Salle yesterday with some bounce in their step. After all, they played one of their best games of the season Wednesday when they took No. 13 Xavier to overtime.

There was plenty to play for against La Salle, which had lost its previous four games by an average of 18.5 points per game, including a scenario in which the Dukes could still play host to a first-round game in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

But just when the Dukes appeared to be getting things together, it fell apart in a lackluster effort against the Explorers.

La Salle overcame a terrible shooting performance in the second half and hung on for a 71-66 victory at Tom Gola Arena.

The Dukes made the score close late, but they lost the game in the first half. They took a 10-0 lead four minutes into the game but watched the Explorers score 40 of the next 59 points in the first half.

"Defensively, we weren't getting enough stops in the first half," junior guard Jimmy Tricco said. "We dug ourselves a big hole. We were lackadaisical in the first half. We can't do those types of things if we want to be successful."

During one stretch, La Salle outscored the Dukes, 21-2, and held the Dukes without a point for more than five minutes.

Coach Danny Nee disagreed that the Dukes were lackadaisical. He said they were "sluggish."

Nee said he is not puzzled by his team's inconsistency. He said he knows exactly why the Dukes failed to seize the opportunity that was in from of them.

"You're not going to like this answer, but we're just not good enough yet," Nee said.

The Dukes turned the ball over 20 times and allowed La Salle 19 offensive rebounds. In their meeting a few weeks ago at the Palumbo Center, La Salle dominated the boards and came from 10 points back to beat the Dukes.

Every one of those rebounds and some strong free-throw shooting were needed in the second half because the Explorers shot 14 percent in the final 20 minutes. They were 4 for 28 from the field and went almost 10 minutes between field goals at one point. But they did make 22 of 27 free-throw attempts and 28 of 36 for the game.

"I can't say that I've ever been involved in a game like that," La Salle Coach Billy Hahn said. "In the 28 years I've been in it, I can't remember a team shooting 14 percent and still winning the game."

"I thought the key stat of the game was the 19 offensive rebounds," Nee said. "When you give up 19 offensive rebounds, you're not boxing out a whole lot."

The Dukes fought back in the second half and briefly held a one-point lead, 66-65, with 2:16 remaining after Brad Midgley made a jumper.

La Salle took a 67-66 lead on two Jean-Joel Baptiste free throws with 1:15 to go after Kevin Forney was called for his fifth foul.

Midgley missed a shot near the baseline on the Dukes' next possession. La Salle ran the shot clock down, missed a shot but grabbed two offensive rebounds. Midgley had to foul Gary Neal with 17.8 seconds left. Neal made two free throws for a 69-66 lead.

The Dukes tried to go for the tie, but Tricco fumbled a Bryant McAllister pass out of bounds with 10.9 left as he was coming off a screen for a 3-point attempt. Mike Cleaves was fouled and made both of his free throws with 7.7 seconds left to close out the scoring.

The Dukes have struggled at the end of close games. They had opportunities to beat Denver, Dayton (twice) and Xavier but failed to come up with the big shot at the end of the game.

"It's frustrating," Tricco said. "We have to learn how to finish off games."

The loss dropped the Dukes to 9-19, 3-12 in the Atlantic 10, but by Monday they could add to their win total because St. Bonaventure might have to forfeit 25 games because it played an ineligible player. Atlantic 10 athletic directors are scheduled to meet tomorrow via conference call to discuss whether the Bonnies will forfeit the games in which Jamil Terrell played. The Bonnies ruled Terrell academically ineligible last week but are appealing to the NCAA for reinstatement.

That could affect Duquesne's seeding in the upcoming conference tournament next week, but only if the Dukes win their final game of the season Saturday at home against Rhode Island.

Elijah Palmer led the Dukes with 15 points and eight rebounds. Simplice Njoya added 14 points and six boards.

Neal and David Bell each had 19 points to lead La Salle.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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