Dukes make national headlines

My day started Saturday at 10 a.m. and it ended at 5:30 Sunday morning. There was a good reason for that as throughout the time I was kept busy by the news of the Duquesne men’s basketball team being stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

This is national news and there is no disputing that. Something such as this happens once every year or two but this incident was avoidable.

It is not the Atlantic 10’s fault. The conference scheduled the game 26 hours earlier so that Duquesne could try and get home safely as the snow started just a couple of hours before the final whistle sounded in the game against George Mason. Though A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade will talk with athletic directors, the conference will continue to monitor the weather. Scheduling favors two games a week so in theory rescheduling a game would not be out of the question though it would prefer not to.

A popular target has been Duquesne’s athletic director David Harper. I would say that is the easy way out and an unwise way to point blame. The team had a bus at VCU and keeping Duquesne with limited supplies in a Fairfax, VA area where 2-feet of snow were being projected was not any better than being unable to move on the PA Turnpike. Everyone in Pittsburgh and the coaching staff all monitored the weather and felt it was safe to proceed. With a game on Tuesday you want your team best prepared for the contest which is against LaSalle, an A-10 opponent.

No one could have been able to foresee several trucks causing a standstill. On any other day this is not a story because the Dukes are back in campus resting within 4-6 hours after leaving Fairfax. Blaming Harper is foolish because there was nothing he could do. He as well as Duquesne’s chief of police did all they could but given the situation that was just getting food to the bus. When you are trapped on the turnpike, you cannot get another bus or find another way to transport the team.

If anyone is to blame it is the PA Turnpike Commission. It was aware of how tough the roads would be to drive and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf had declared a state of energy for all of PA. It may be easiest to criticize them, but that is where most if any of the blame should be placed.

The good news for Duquesne is that all 32 people were able to maintain high spirits throughout the 30 hours and 24 minutes in the bus. The Dukes made friends with a bus next to them which contained eighth grade students from Iowa. When Duquesne did get food, it shared with the eighth graders.

This story is more than sports, its about a group of individuals used to adversity overcame more during this two day stretch.

My reporting included calls with the PA Turnpike Commission, Harper and senior forward Nick Foschia. I was also was able to obtain a statement from A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade.

Whether I was covering the Duquesne women’s basketball game or eating my birthday dinner, I was quick and consistent when it came to updates.

When I finally heard the Dukes would make it back on campus Saturday night, I knew what to do and never hesitated. It could have been 30 degrees below zero and I still would have been waiting at the A.J. Palumbo Center for the team to return.

It turns out I was the only reporter to do so, for a national news story. At 10:46 p.m. the team bus came into view and myself and the local TV cameramen prepared.

This is an experience the team will never forget. They will be brothers and family for life. I also will never forget the experience. Though I was not anywhere near the bus, it was my goal to give the readers the impression that I was.

The team remained together even after it got off the bus going to a restaurant close to campus to eat. A final scene of solidarity as I made my way back home.

Here are my links to my reporting on the story. Both are free and no subscription is needed to read either of these articles.

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/FREE/2016/01/23/dukes-remain-stuck-on-pa-turnpike/

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/FREE/2016/01/24/snow-stranded-dukes-came-a-long-way/

Photo credit: Ed Thompson

 

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Five things I think Jan. 9

It’s back again and this time on sports in general.

  1. Playoff predictions:

Chiefs 17 Texans 10- The Chiefs just know how to win and I feel that momentum will carry them. My one concern is the Chiefs really haven’t played anyone since this winning streak. They defeated the Denver Broncos when Peyton Manning was injured and Landry Jones was starting for the Steelers.

Steelers 24 Bengals 13- I just do not trust A.J. McCarron at quarterback in a playoff game. The Bengals have admittedly scaled back the playbook and that will be the undoing. Sure Ben Roethlisberger has not won a playoff game in a good while, but that should not matter here.

Seahawks 13 Vikings 10- This will be an ugly weather game, the only reason why the Vikings have a chance. Neither team will get much going, but in this situation, I like the Seahawks experience to get them through.

Redskins 23 Packers 20 OT- I really could see this going either way. Perhaps it is because I am in Washington D.C. as I type this entry, but I just see the Redskins doing just enough. Kirk Cousins has transformed into a franchise quarterback and the Packers have lost six of their last 10 games.

2. Hall of Fame– Glad to see Ken Griffey Jr. in. He deserved it and his induction should have been unanimous. Mike Piazza admitted to using PED’s. As a voter, I would have been on the fence with him. I felt a lot of people gave him a pass. This admission tells me he is not the best catcher ever to play. I would have had to make a judgment call. A bit disappointed to see Jim Edmonds is off the ballot and it is because a lot of the BBWA does not embrace the new school of thinking. He was one of my favorite players to watch growing up. I am a big Mike Mussina fan as well and hope he gets in. I also would have voted for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman. So that would have been six definite picks for me.

3. Early NL Central prediction– NL Central will  take a step back next season. It absolutely has to. The NL Central winner in 2016 will have under 90 wins.

  1. Cubs– This did not take long at all. The Cubs are stacked. I think their youth will hurt them at times but I really like their team from top to bottom.
  2. Pirates– I am a fan of most of the free agency moves. The rotation as a whole will have to step up and that will be tough. Jung Ho Kang’s health will be a key question early.
  3. Cardinals– This may surprise a lot of people but I am not impressed. Cardinals feel they have enough to contend now and will build later. Yadier Molina’s health concerns me and I liked Tony Cruz as his backup more the Brayan Pena. I am not a fan of the rotation. Adam Wainwright is coming off injury and older. Lance Lynn is done for the season. Jaime Garcia concerns me. Michael Wacha limped to the finish line. Mike Leake would help but still the rotation is a question mark.
  4. Brewers– Rebuilding a bit but less than the Reds. I have a lot of respect for Craig Counsell. He was a very smart player and seemed to have a better grip of things despite the hand he was dealt than Ron Roenicke. This team still has pieces though Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann need to be more consistent.
  5. Reds– Just a total rebuild. No excuses for Bryan Price this season. He’s dealt with injuries to his core group but this year’s team needs to show a pulse or he needs to go.

4. PGA Tour major winners 2016

Masters Rory McIlroy– I just like the way he finished the 2015 season and will be back to full health. This win will put him atop the Official World Golf Ranking in addition to earning the career grand slam.

U.S. Open Dustin Johnson– Finally Johnson gets it done and at an Oakmont course where length off the tee will matter. This will be a career moment for him.

Open Championship/British Open Patrick Reed– It was a down 2015 for Reed’s standards but I like what he was able to do on the European Tour following the end of the FedEx Cup. That promise has me picking Reed just over Rickie Fowler.

PGA Championship Hideki Matsuyama– This pick may surprise a few people but I think Matsuyama will surprise a lot of people. He has shown promise and has a PGA Tour win in the 2014 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance but also was able to contend in big tournaments in 2015. I think he wins twice on tour this season and this will be a big moment for him and Japanese golf.

5. Novak Djokovic wins French Open in 2016/Serena Williams prediction– More people should be paying attention to tennis. Novak Djokovic is on a run similar to that of Roger Federer a few years ago. I have Djokovic winning three majors next season including a four-set win at the French Open this season. This would allow him to win the career slam. As for Serena Williams, I hope for her sake it is a healthier year. She fought through a lot on the court last season. It is for that reason that I rule out a calendar slam because she will fall in the Australian Open semifinal match. I like her to win the other three majors once she has that pressure off her and can play a bit more freely. Both men’s and women’s tennis are at a high point again and it is exciting to see.

 

Dukes win but again not satisfied

FAIRFAX, VA— How you do in practice certainly can result in a correlation with in-game performance. The Duquesne women’s basketball team nearly learned that the hard way in a 72-56 road win against George Mason.

Coach Dan Burt admitted the Dukes had two days of practice which were below par and it clearly seemed to affect the team.

To the Duquesne friends and family members in attendance for Thursday night’s game, seeing a 32-31 halftime deficit against a rebuilding George Mason team had to be a little concerning.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well. At all,” Burt said of the team’s first half shooting struggles.

The Dukes had just run roughshod against three consecutive tough opponents. On this night though, it was a 6-8 team creating problems.

Though the Patriots clearly scouted Duquesne well and wanted the win, it was the Dukes who were doing a lot of the damage themselves.

In that first half, players clearly were not completing plays on offense and they knew it. The body language at times was absolutely atrocious.

Burt noticed that as well.

“I didn’t think we had great body language and I brought that up in two different huddles,” Burt said. “It was just like we were running in quicksand almost.”

Though Duquesne had a better second half, it should be no surprise that it was a silent library once again once the players left the floor.

“This was definitely a quiet locker room,” freshman forward Kadri-Ann Lass said. “We didn’t play well the first half and we were not happy with the game. We got the win, that’s good but now we have forget about this game and come back better.”

Lass made key shots down the stretch and finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, just missing a double-double. It appears she has become more of a consistent force in the Duquesne offense, though she downplayed this.

“I was just in the game and wanted to win so badly,” she said. “I didn’t think about getting the shots. We were down when we came back to play the second half, and our goal was to win the second half. It’s a team and that’s what I like. You’re happy for everyone.”

It was another good game for senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman. A 21-point 12-rebound performance was her second double-double of the season as well as her second 20-plus point contest this season.

Workman carried the Dukes first half offense and was the lone bright spot.

Key to the game: Getting to the free throw line is a sign of aggression and Duquesne fired 23 shots from there in comparison to George Mason’s seven. Sure passes into the post were defended well for most of the game but the plays often were not completed resulting in free throws. Workman was 9-9 in this game, getting to the line more than the Patriots did as a team.

Up next: The Dukes face Fordham Sunday at noon in a game televised on CBS Sports Network. Fordham is 6-9/1-1 A-10. The Rams are traditionally known as a tough defensive team which could test the Dukes offense to see what it learned in this game.

Photo credit: Ed Thompson

Slighted Dukes making case for recognition

It never was close. Those four words just about sum up the Duquesne women’s basketball team and Sunday’s 89-58 home win against Dayton.

A 12-0 run allowed the Dukes to be the aggressor early and a banged up Flyers squad never recovered.

Senior guard April Robinson earned her first career triple-double at any level and did so quietly. She flirted with the milestone earlier this season, but did so Sunday.

If Robinson was unaware of the milestone Duquesne fans, which loudly chanted “triple-double” quickly filled her in.

Sports is all about information and statistics this day, take it from my friend and DK Pittsburgh Sports colleague Matt Gajtka who fascinates each week with a Matt’s Stats piece.

Going into this season I had no clue that women’s basketball had a player efficiency. Coach Dan Burt still has no idea how it works, but I was given a basic introduction by Duquesne Sports Information Director Ryan Gavatorta. I’ll spare you the numbers and formulas and go on with my point.

Senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman was a +43 in the Dayton win. Whether you know advanced statistics or not, it is easy to know that this is good. When Workman is on the court, the Dukes perform well and it makes opposing coaches very nervous. Everything changes when Workman is in the game and she is not even in the starting lineup.

As for the team still not being ranked in the top-25 poll, there is not much logical explanation to it. It is not as if this is Duquesne’s first season doing well. After all, the Dukes have been in the WNIT for years now. They are a consistently good program which this season have become better.

January is way too early to gauge as to whether an NCAA Tournament bid is a possibility, but it is not too early to know that the team at this point, should be in the top-25.

Sure the non-conference schedule was perceived as weak but voters need to look beyond the box score. It is not all wins but how they happen and why they happen. Duquesne has built a successful culture where the players take ownership of the program. Wins are not enough. It is about how well they perform.

Sometimes the locker room may be confused for a library it is so quiet.

I have covered the Dukes for all of Burt’s time there from the introductory press conference announcing his hire through the Dayton win and will continue to do so.

Wins are not the whole story. It is the way this team has adjusted every season based on personnel, became a family and now have the ultimate belief and trust in each other.

Something special is going on in Pittsburgh.

It’s a shame the voters decide to favor bigger name schools or base decisions off of relationships. The results are in their faces. Duquesne 13-1. Duquesne 18 consecutive home wins. Duquesne six road wins. Duquesne consistent Atlantic 10 Player and Rookie of the Week honors. Duquesne five scorers in double figures.

I’d keep going, but instead I will direct you to my DK Pittsburgh Sports notebook on these and other topics. It is worth your time and should make you frustrated.

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/01/04/duquesne-athletics-respect-slow-to-come/

Photo credits: Stephen Pope and Ed Thompson