|Duquesne needs one win for rare winning season|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 12 February 2008 23:31|
Regardless, one of the nation's worst Division I basketball programs since the early 1980s is one victory away from its first winning season in 14 years and only its second in 21.
Certainly, it would be a modest accomplishment for most schools. Considering how far Duquesne's program has come in only two seasons, from a 3-24 record in 2005-06 and the on-campus shootings of five players 17 months ago, the feat would be a giant one.
Even if the Dukes (15-7) seemingly aren't paying much attention to it.
``It's one of those things that you might look back on in hindsight, after the season is over, and say, 'That's a good thing,''' coach Ron Everhart said Tuesday. ``But our guys right now, the worst thing in world would be to think they're satisfied with a winning season. We're trying to position ourselves in the league (Atlantic 10) race.''
That's something few Dukes teams of recent vintage have discussed in mid-February: the conference race. The Dukes are 5-4 in league playing going into Wednesday night's difficult game at Dayton (16-6, 4-5), which owns a 25-point home court win over now-No. 22 Pittsburgh and beat Louisville on the road.
After that, the Dukes are at home Saturday against Richmond (12-10, 5-4), then return to the road to play conference-leading and No. 12 Xavier (20-4, 8-1) on Feb. 21. Four of the Dukes' last seven are on the road.
Winning five of the seven to achieve the school's first 20-win season since 1980-81 might be asking too much. Then again, not many in Pittsburgh thought the Dukes' rebuilding project would be nearly this far along during Everhart's second season, with four wins in their last six games and consecutive wins over Saint Joseph's (102-88) and La Salle (101-84).
It's why Everhart is among the five finalists for the Dapper Dan Club's Pittsburgh sportsman of the year award, along with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Penguins star Sidney Crosby, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and high school football-basketball star Terrelle Pryor.
Still, Everhart wonders how far along the Dukes would be if they hadn't fallen behind Pitt 14-0, only to be in position to win late in what became a 78-73 loss. Or if they had made one more shot down the stretch in that 77-73 loss at now-No. 14 Drake.
like is our guys are taking pride in wearing that `Duquesne' on their chest,'' Everhart said. ``They come to practice every day and work with a high intensity level and passion. But, when you look back, there's still a lot of room for improvement, some games we lost that we were in position to win.''
Fittingly, Duquesne's modest surge of late has been led by guard Aaron Jackson, one of only two remaining players from that 3-24 team of 2005-06 and one of the players shot in September 2006.
Jackson averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists against Saint Joseph's and La Salle and leads the Dukes in minutes played.
``It's been tough around here for a while, but we're buying into coach's system now,'' said Jackson, who also downplays the significance of a possible winning season.
That system, which continues to be tweaked from game to game, began to evolve when Everhart started using two separate five-man units to pressure the ball and speed up the game during a run of five consecutive wins last season.
He has dabbled with and reworked that system at times this season, going to it when he thinks the team needs a lift. But, with more talented players around, including 6-10 shot-blocking ace Shawn James (14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.2 blocks) and point guard Kojo Mensah (13.6 points), Everhart usually goes with a more traditional rotation.
Being more conventional hasn't hurt the bottom line; the Dukes' 85.9 points per game average leads the A-10 in scoring and is No. 4 nationally.
``The good thing is we're more comfortable now with different combinations of guys,'' Everhart said. ``There's a lot of different ways we can play.''