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Duquesne University
Basketball: Another Dukes comeback falls short in 76-71 loss

Sunday, March 09, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It has been the year of the comeback for the Duquesne Dukes. It also has been the year of wretched starts.

Duquesne's Chris Clark, right, and Rhode Island's Terrence Mack struggle yesterday at the Palumbo Center. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

Yesterday, the Dukes took another game down to the wire, but once again they didn't have enough to get over the top in a 76-71 loss to Rhode Island in the regular-season finale at the Palumbo Center.

The Dukes (9-20, 4-12) finished in last place in the Atlantic 10 Conference's West Division. It is the eighth consecutive season the Dukes finished in last or tied for last place in the conference standings or their division.

As the sixth seed in the West, the Dukes play at Rhode Island (17-10, 10-6), the third seed from the East at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

The Dukes came back from 25 points down in the second half and cut Rhode Island's lead to three with 4:26 remaining, but that's as close as the Dukes could get. The Rams closed out the game by making 15 of 18 free throws in the final seven minutes. They made 8 of 8 in the final 1:06, and they needed them because they made one field goal in the final 14:25 of the game.

"If we learned how to play two halves, we could blow these teams out, instead of losing by six, which we seem to do all the time," senior Brad Midgley said.

The game was a microcosm of the season for the Dukes, who dropped to 5-8 in games decided by six points or fewer. Rhode Island is 8-3 in such games.

The Dukes came out flat. They missed their first nine shots of the game and had five turnovers in the first seven minutes as Rhode Island raced to a 15-0 lead.

The Dukes never got on track in the first half. They made 7 of 24 from the field and had 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Rhode Island led, 36-22, at halftime.

"When I saw the first statistics of the game, we were 1 for 8 from 3-point range, with good looks," Dukes Coach Danny Nee said. "We were missing good shots. That was the key."

One other problem was defense. Rhode Island, 11th in the conference in field-goal percentage (38.8 percent), shot 50 percent from the field in the first half.

In the second half the Dukes turned up the defensive pressure and held the Rams to 9-of-21 shooting.

The Dukes went on a 29-7 run in a 10-minute stretch in the second half to cut the Rams' lead to three points, but the huge deficit proved to be too much to overcome.

"We've been here so many times," Midgley said. "We come out, we get down, and it's like, here we come again. I knew we were going to come back. I just didn't know if we were going to have enough to get the win."

It was the fifth time this season the Dukes made a valiant second-half comeback only to fall short at the end. They trailed Dayton by 20 in mid-January, came back to take a one-point lead with 61 seconds left but lost, 77-72. They trailed Richmond by 16, came back and gained a three-point lead with 6:33 left, but lost, 75-69. They trailed Dayton by 14, came back and got within one with 1:17 left and lost, 76-75. They trailed La Salle by 14 last week, came back and took a one-point lead with 2:15 left and lost, 71-66.

Nee was asked if he ever wondered what his team's record would be if it played as well early in games as it does in the second half. He managed a smile and answered: "I wish I had that luxury. I don't understand it. There is now answer to it. We're just not there yet."

Kevin Forney led the Dukes with 14 points. Ron Dokes had 12 and Simplice Njoya and Midgley each added 11.

Brian Woodward led Rhode Island with 22 points. He was 7 for 8 from the field and 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. Dawan Robinson had 19 and made 11 of 14 free throws.

NOTES -- Duquesne has lost 20 games for the fourth time in five seasons. ... The Dukes were 1 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half and were 6 for 21 from the game. ... Rhode Island was 28 for 39 from the free-throw line for the game, 21 for 27 in the second half.

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

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