Ignore Duquesne at Your Own Peril

    
February 1st, 2011
In leagues that tend to have an established pecking order from a tradition standpoint, it can be tough for programs not seen among the privileged by outsiders to garner their just due. But that is slowly turning around for Ron Everhart's Duquesne Dukes, who have won 10 straight games and sit atop the Atlantic 10 standings with a 7-0 record (tied with Xavier). The common bond between many teams is an unselfish attitude, something that Duquesne has displayed all season long. Seven players average at least seven points per game, with five also averaging two or more assists per game.

"There have been two really big keys," remarked Everhart. "Our seniors have provided great leadership. Damian Saunders and Bill Clark have bought into doing it the team way. Also, we have two freshman point guards (T.J. McConnell and Mike Talley) who set the tone by being willing passers."

Duquesne averages 81.8 points per game while assisting on 68.4% of their made baskets, numbers that currently lead the Atlantic 10. Clark has been outstanding on the offensive end of the floor, averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game and putting up the best numbers of his career in his final campaign. Clark is shooting 50.2% from the field and 41.2% from three while also averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, not only getting back to the efficiency displayed as a sophomore (112.5 offensive rating) but surpassing it by some distance (127.0 this year, tops in the Atlantic 10). Versatility has been key for Clark, as it has been for the Dukes as a whole, but he's already made 49 three-pointers in just 119 attempts after needing 165 attempts to make 46 a season ago.

"He's letting the game come to him and taking good shots," said Coach Everhart of Clark's offensive performance. "He's been exceptional in that regard, and he also finishing around the basket."

There's also the presence of point guards T.J. McConnell and Mike Talley, two freshmen who have made their presence known in running the Duquesne offense. McConnell averages 11.5 points and 4.7 assists per game, has been named A-10 Rookie of the Week four consecutive weeks and most importantly having an assist-to-turnover ratio approaching 3-to-1 this season. "I thought T.J. would have the impact that he's had, but I thought it might take longer than it has," said Everhart. McConnell also averages a team-best 2.9 steals per game, a product of his ability to disrupt passing lanes. Coach Everhart also noted that his teammates enjoy playing with him, something that while it sounds simple can be difficult to accomplish for a freshman. Talley doesn't score at the same rate as McConnell with an average just south of eight points per game but he also takes care of the basketball (1.5 A/T ratio) and has started 18 games.

The other senior is Damian Saunders, who has scored in double figures in nine straight games but has an even bigger impact on the defensive end with an average of 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals per game to go with 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. "Damian's the key to our defense," said Everhart. "He can play 1.5 or 2 guys at a time on any given possession and has really solidified our interior defense. In our defense we do a lot of switching and Damian's been as good on the perimeter as he's been inside." As a team Duquesne is second in the Atlantic 10 in points per possession on the defensive end, allowing just 0.92 points, and they also hassle the opposition into turnovers on 28% of their possessions. So to think that the Dukes are simply an outfit that will outscore you would be foolhardy at this stage in the season. "The kids are willing to do extra to help their teammate [defensively], and they do a good job of getting bodies on people and rebounding," said Everhart.

Simply put Duquesne has a number of options to call upon any given night. Junior wing B.J. Monteiro, who was a pure scorer entering college but has expanded his game this season. Outside of free throw shooting his numbers are up across the board and that concerns rebounding, assists as well as the offensive numbers. Sean Johnson and Eric Evans are two of the contributors off the bench, and their depth lends to a style of play that to this point in conference play no one's had an answer for. Game by game the Duquesne Dukes are showing that the beating they put on Temple January 15th was a legitimate representation of who they are and who they could be by season's end.

Wednesday's Atlantic 10 Schedule
7:00 PM Fordham at Rhode Island
7:00 PM St. Joseph's at Richmond
7:00 PM George Washington at Duquesne
7:00 PM Temple at La Salle
7:30 PM Xavier at Charlotte
8:00 PM Massachusetts at Saint Louis
9:00 PM St. Bonaventure at Dayton