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Duquesne overcomes slow start to best Central Michigan

Pittsburgh, PA — The Duquesne women’s basketball team saw 0-13 and 0-6 shooting performances to open its first and second quarters against a Central Michigan team riding an eight-game winning streak.

By halftime, Duquesne was down by 13 points, a rarity at the Palumbo Center. Down but not out, Paige Cannon recalled a locker room conversation prior to the third quarter which changed the game.

“We sat down before the coaches came in and said ‘we’re going to win this game,'” she said. “We just had to come out, be confident and box out. We had to execute our gameplan and when we did that things worked out.”

Duquesne held a Central Michigan team which averages 86.2 points per game, to 19 in a second half rally.

“It shows a lot of toughness,” Duquesne guard Chassidy Omogrosso said. “That’s what I felt good about and that’s what I liked about us today. We stayed together and that goes a long way on the court.”

It took until 3:02 into the fourth quarter that Duquesne took its first lead and only after Tinara Moore missed an open 3-point shot that the Dukes could exhale after a 64-61 win.

“Today we beat a really good basketball team,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “I think they’re the best team we’ve played all year, they shoot the ball exceptionally well and that did not happen today. Our kids never faltered for one second in terms of thinking they would lose.”

Duquesne now improves to 10-2 on the season, extends its winning streak to eight games and has won the past 11 contests at the Palumbo Center, a streak which dates back to last season.

Burt was clearly proud of the second half effort his team displayed.

“We’re special, we’re a pretty good basketball team,” said Burt. “It’s early in the year and we have a lot of basketball to play but people know their roles but want to challenge for more time. We have an opportunity to be very good this year, that’s going to be an everyday process and I am excited to be part of this process for the next three months.”

The struggle

Duquesne knew it would have its hands full with this Central Michigan team. This was an opponent which had all five starters averaging double digit point totals per game and came in shooting 85.1% from the free throw line.

If this was not apparent enough, the 15-2 deficit Duquesne faced more than showed that. It took all of six minutes for CMU’s Tinara Moore to score 12 points.

In an effort to stop the run and get his team going, Burt called his first timeout, just prior to the designated first quarter media timeout.

At the time, Duquesne was 0-10 from the field, and Central Michigan had a 10-5 rebounding advantage.

“I thought we were going to get our butts kicked,” Burt recalled of his mindset at the time. “In the first quarter, we had a lot of shots we wanted and any post touch we couldn’t go to the middle. Everything we saw was correctable, we couldn’t fix it as much in the second quarter but we fixed it at halftime and that was evident in the second half.”

Duquesne has not lost at home since Jan. 10 so when the Dukes went into the locker room at halftime, there was a silence among the 721 fans in attendance. The Dukes shot 17.6% from the field in the first quarter. Only one player, Julijana Vojonovic had more than two field goals and she was 3-11 from the field in the first half.

Following Duquesne’s Dec. 9 win at Akron, Burt admitted that part of him wanted to see his team struggle from the field to see how they would respond.

He got his wish.

Duquesne had to find itself on both ends of the basketball.

“So far I don’t think we’ve had to overcome much adversity throughout our games, so it’s always easier when you get the win but for me we see what we mean to each other,” said Vojinovic. “Once we’re down and adversity hit us, we have to see how we’re going to respond to see if we could separate or come together.”

The success

It was clear that Duquesne was a completely different team in the second half of this game.

Central Michigan’s Presley Hudson came into this game averaging 20.8 points per game but Conor Richardson’s defense held her to 11 points on 3-12 shooting and three of those points came in the second half. Cassie Breen had 14 first half points but was also held scoreless in the second half. Reyna Frost was also had to two second half points.

“Our team defense in the second half was simply exceptional, to hold them to 19 points in the second half says a whole lot,” Burt said.

Cannon was able to combat CMU’s posts with her 12 points and 10 rebounds, seven of which were offensive.

“We got tougher in the second half and didn’t let them get those rebounds,” she said. “We had to come out and be stronger and tougher. I felt like we did that, we just came out and as a team we started playing much better defense.”

On the offensive end, Cannon finished plays including a third quarter layup which just beat the shot clock and was created by a Kadri-Ann Lass pass which saved the basketball from going out of bounds.

It was the defense which created the difference in this game.

Central Michigan was able to have enough answers to lead by one point after the third quarter but it was clear that momentum had shifted sides.

“We executed very poorly in the second half,” Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara said to the university’s athletic website. “In the third quarter they wanted it more. They did a better job of rebounding and getting 50-50 balls and that’s probably the most disappointing thing about this whole game.”

Duquesne firmly believes it is a good team in all four quarters, something which was put to the test as the Dukes shot at a 33.3% clip and had to again rely on defense to pull through.

When Cannon missed a jumper with 20 seconds left in regulation, Central Michigan had a chance to bring the game to overtime. The play was designed for Hudson, but she was tightly guarded forcing her to pass for more who had a straight on 3-point shot which hit the rim but did not fall in the net.

Duquesne’s excited reaction after was shown both on the court and on the team bench with Burt raising both fists in the air after the final buzzer sounded.

“We just never worried, we had to stay level-headed and keep our confidence because we knew our defense would get stops,” said Omogrosso. “We’re never worried about our offense but our defense is what we can control.”

Going into overtime

Here are three quicker points on the game itself that best fit in this section of the article

1. Julijana Vojinovic sank her 100th career 3-point basket in the third quarter of Sunday afternoon’s game.

Vojinovic is in her second season as a starter and third on the team. In an Atlantic 10 Championship closed practice her freshman year, Burt remarked that the Serbian performed best on the team, showing form that Duquesne fans are now quite familiar with.

Her approach as to why 3-point shots make her comfortable seems rather simple.

“No matter what the outcome of the game is or in a moment in the game, I’m still thinking I will make the shot,” she said. “I have teammates and coaches who believe in me and help me.”

2. Duquesne had some early foul trouble in the first quarter and Burt called upon freshman Helmi Tulonen who capably filled in with nine total minutes and made four big free throws to help provide some needed points and keep the Dukes in the game.

Kadri-Ann Lass had just two points in this game, but played an important 28 minutes because her defensive presence created a matchup problem. Burt easily could have had more offense by subbing in Tulonen or Eniko Kuttor but the look Lass provided on defense was something which frustrated CMU so much that she had to stay in.

There was a lot to take away from this game, but the role Tulonen and Lass played in this win should not be overlooked.

3. When the going got tough in this game, Duquesne recalled last year’s disappointment and were able to use it as motivation.

A lot of times carrying this chip on the proverbial shoulder has a negative effect but it is clear that is not the case here.

“I think we can all agree that we didn’t have the season we wanted to have last season and that alone can drive us to want to be so much better,” Cannon explained. “We aren’t going to give up in any game and we’re going to work to win.”

Up next

Duquesne will travel to Canada to take on UConn Friday. UConn is currently the top ranked team in the country.

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