Dukes claim NCAA East Region Third Place title

STARE DOWN -- Duquesne guard Bill Zopf gazes into the camera while donning his white Duquesne jersey. Zopf scored 23 points in the Dukes’ win versus St. John’s on Mar. 15, 1969. -- Duquesne Athletics
STARE DOWN — Duquesne guard Bill Zopf gazes into the camera while donning his white Duquesne jersey. Zopf scored 23 points in the Dukes’ win versus St. John’s on Mar. 15, 1969. — Duquesne Athletics

By Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer

Feb. 22, 2018

March, 1969 —

Despite a tough exit from the NCAA Tournament, the Duquesne men’s basketball team finished its season on a high note with a 75-72 victory over the St. John’s Red Storm in the East Region Third Place Game.

Heading into the game, Duquesne knew it would need its star players to step up if they wanted to take down St. John’s, a team considered by many as one of the best in the country.

Thankfully, the Dukes got just what they were looking for, as the backcourt tandem of Jarrett Durham and Bill Zopf provided plenty of offensive firepower. The duo, who both played a full 40 minutes for Duquesne, led the team with 24 and 23 points, respectively.

Duquesne pulled out the victory, but it wasn’t easy. They faced tough opposition from the Red Storm, who had four players that finished with double-digit scoring totals. Center Billy Paultz was especially troublesome, as the big man scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

The solid performance of Paultz helped lead St. John’s to a 35-31 lead at the half. However, Duquesne responded in the second stanza, outscoring its opponents, 44-37.

It was an exciting triumph for the Dukes, but this was not the game they wanted to be playing in. Just days earlier, the boys from the Bluff were vying for a spot in the East Region Finals. A victory in that game would have sent them to their first Final Four appearance since 1940.

However, their opponent, North Carolina, had a different plan in mind. The Tar Heels, last year’s Tournament Runner Up, edged the Dukes by a single point to win, 79-78.

North Carolina was driven by standout guard and Second Team All-American, Charlie Scott. Scott led both sides with 22 points, while also adding an impressive nine rebounds and six assists.

Despite the loss, the Dukes did not go down without a fight. After trailing by seven at the midway point, they outscored the Tar Heels in the second half. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to win.

The loss made for a bitter ending to Duquesne’s postseason. Even so, it was still a successful year for the Dukes, who finished with an impressive 21-5 record.

Those 21 wins included several victories against ranked teams like St. Bonaventure, Villanova and St. John’s.

Duquesne’s strong season earned it a No. 9 final ranking in the AP Poll, which ranks the best collegiate programs nationwide.

This was also Duquesne’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1952, when it reached the Elite Eight.

While they did not go as far as they had hoped, the team proved why so many are optimistic about the program’s future. With multiple core players returning next year, the Dukes should be able to make another run at the NCAA Tournament.

The current state of Duquesne basketball has many fans, especially current students, feeling good about the future.

Just ask freshman Dave Hebda. In his short time at Duquesne, he has quickly become one of the team’s biggest fans.

While he was disappointed with the way things ended, he said the basketball season was still the highlight of his year.

“Everyone’s excited, everyone goes to the games,” Hebda said. “It feels like the focus of the entire university.”

Hebda is certainly not alone in his positive stance. As he pointed out, the Civic Arena, home of the Duquesne men, is regularly packed with fans.

Hopefully, this recent momentum acts as a stepping stone for the Dukes as they look to become a basketball powerhouse for years to come.

The close loss to North Carolina was a true heartbreaker, but the consolation match against St. John’s reaffirmed the optimism of Duquesne fans.

While the season ended just a few days ago, the excitement is already building for next year.


Please Note: This year, The Duquesne Duke has attempted to revisit certain centuries by throwing back the paper’s layout and formatting, as well as certain content. For The Duke’s Feb. 22, 2018 edition, the paper was laid out in accordance with how the paper looked in the 1960’s. This article takes a look back at Duquesne basketball at the end of the century as if it was present-day.