Just a few days earlier, Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt sat disappointed in his team following a win. The same cannot be said following a 76-57 victory over 25th ranked St. John’s.
The Dukes have started the season 11-1 and in this case did so coming from behind at halftime.
This is not a scenario which has helped the Dukes who were 3-18 under Burt when trailing at halftime coming into this game.
“Usually you’re not satisfied as a coach and you can find something,” Burt said. “At halftime I told the team the game was ours. We had to fix things in our zone defense and we did that. This is as complete a team victory as we’ve had in a while. It’s a great win for our program and a great resume builder for us as a possible at-large team if we have to go that direction at the end of the year.”
A key reason for the victory was Duquesne containing St. John’s “big two” which consists of senior guards Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford. The pair average 40 points a game, but in this contest combined for 19 points.
Duquesne had to make adjustments after trailing in the first half. It allowed too many easy baskets, especially in the first quarter and on offense missed to many of those same open looks.
Senior guard April Robinson, who had a double-double with 15 points and 11 assists credited assistant coach Rachel Wojdowski with making the right adjustments to get the team refocused back on defense.
“We packed in our defense after half,” said Robinson. “With top guards getting in paint it limited chances of getting points.”
Going into the game, the Dukes had a good mindset coming off what the team called two of its best practices this season, and from there it came down to a battle of wills.
Burt admits the Dukes underestimated how good St. John’s in the post, especially junior forward Jade Walker who had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. She was contained in the second half however.
Senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman knows this performance came down to the defensive end and for her, the Dukes were the team which possessed more hunger in this game.
“It’s about setting a good example and even though that team is ranked it means nothing,” she said. “If we play our game we’ll be fine. That team is good and we concentrated on defense and defense made us win this game.”
Duquesne shot nearly 18 percent better than its opponent in the second half and appeared to be the more confident and comfortable team of the two.
“We just kept moving,” Robinson said. “We got them in foul trouble and the coaches were telling us to get to the basket and free throw line. We had fun. We had a lot of confidence.”
The Dukes now face perhaps their biggest test of the season, the longest break Burt has ever had in 19 years of coaching NCAA D-I Basketball.
After what could be considered a signature win, many of the players will be traveling back home which means workouts, staying in shape and making the right food choices are in their control.
After coming back, the players will prepare for a Dec. 30 road contest against Pitt, the women’s basketball version of The City Game.
“You are 11-1 and you have archrival after Christmas,” said Burt. “If that doesn’t motivate you to do extra workouts, stay in shape and eat properly, I don’t know what will. We expect our kids to get after it. If you’re not committed at this point I don’t think you should be on our team. You would stick out like a sore thumb. It’s all for one and one for all.”
He said it: “Today was a good day.”- Coach Dan Burt paraphrasing a song from Ice Cube.
My take: Forget the rankings for a second. By no means do I consider this an upset. Duquesne is a very talented team which just got a much needed signature win that could help come March. Several teams have come to the A.J. Palumbo Center and Burt has not been able to knock that item off his list. Already he has a big road win against New Mexico and competitive victories over an Ohio team which won 27 games last season in addition to this ranked win against St. John’s.
Workman played absolutely out of her mind and should be considered for Atlantic 10 player of the week with her 21.5 points-per-game and seven rebound average over two games. I believe she responds better when she is the first one off the bench. It makes her more hungry to prove herself.
The Dukes are doing a good job making the most of their non-conference schedule with one game remaining. A strong conference play record is mandatory for an NCAA berth, but efforts such as this one make that a more realistic possibility.
Photo credit: Ed Thompson