By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
The No. 7 seeded Duquesne Dukes women’s basketball team hosted No. 10 George Mason at the A.J. Palumbo Center in the opening round of the 2017 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship on Saturday afternoon and pulled out a 66-55 win to advance to the next round of the tournament played at the Richmond Coliseum.
Freshman guard Nina Aho made back-to-back layups with 3:47 to go in the third quarter to give Duquesne (16-14, 9-8) a 34-32 lead at the time and spark a 26-6 run that propelled the Red & Blue to a double-digit win.
“Do or die — and I was dying a lot in the second quarter,” head coach Dan Burt said. “Boy that was ugly basketball. But I thought we followed it up with a very nice third quarter and a fourth quarter where we were able to outscore [our point total from the entire first half].”
The run was aided by solid defense for Duquesne as they held the Patriots (13-17, 6-10) without a field goal for the final 4:35 of the third quarter, which paved the way for the Dukes to finish the quarter on a 13-2 tear.
Aho contributed nine points, three assists and three rebounds off the bench. Sophomore forward Angela Staffileno also provided a much-needed lift off the bench with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and added six rebounds to help the Dukes run away with the victory. Burt called it Staffileno’s best game as a Duke.
In their final game at the A.J. Palumbo Center, seniors Amadea Szamosi and Brianna Thomas combined for 21 points and 10 rebounds. Vojinovic tallied 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a rough 3 of 15 shooting night for the team’s third-leading scorer.
“One of the keys to this game was to just keep on going,” Szamosi said. “Our mentality was to outwork them and no matter what is happening, just work harder on the court than they do. That allowed us to get our energy back and get us in rhythm too to make those shots.”
The Dukes had to do without their leading scorer, sophomore guard Chassidy Omogrosso (13.8 points per game), who missed the game due to a foot injury suffered in practice. The Dukes struggled mightily to score the basketball without their floor general in the first half shooting 29.4 percent and 18.8 percent from the field in the first and second quarters respectively. Additionally, the Dukes were an abysmal 0-10 from behind the arc in the first half, which led to them trailing 23-21 at the break.
However, the Dukes made a drastic turnaround in the second half by moving the basketball and generating quality looks as they shot 55.5 percent from the floor in the game’s final 20 minutes alone.
“Very happy, you have to be,” Burt said in response to his team’s ball movement. “We were able to attack the basket … Any time your guards are putting that kind of pressure on the defense by driving it hard like we did, you are going to have a lot of success.”
A big reason Duquesne struggled to score the basketball in the first half was due to the fact of George Mason sending away seven blocked shots in the first half alone. But the struggle for the Patriots all afternoon long was getting their shots to drop. They shot just 31.7 percent for the game and 18.2 percent from three-point land.
Seniors Kara Wright and Tiffany Padgett carried the Patriots with 38 of their team’s 55 points, while contributing 12 rebounds as well.
With the loss the Patriots season came to a final halt. On the other side, the Dukes will be getting Omogrosso back, and making the trip to Richmond as they will continue their quest for redemption after falling in the A-10 final in 2016. They will get their chance against the very same team who knocked them off, No. 2 George Washington, on March 3 at 4:30 p.m. on the American Sports Network.