WBB defeats VCU, breaks two-game skid

Peter Boettger | Layout/Multimedia Editor | Duquesne’s Naelle Bernard drives to the basket in the Dukes’ 66-63 win over VCU at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse on Saturday. Bernard scored a team-high 17 points in the Atlantic 10 victory.

Benjamin Gottschalk | Staff Writer

Feb. 9, 2023

The Duquesne women’s basketball team narrowly escaped VCU in a 66-63 win at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon, snapping a two-game losing streak.

The Dukes were propelled by a phenomenal start from Naelle Bernard, who scored 11 of her team-high 17 points in the first quarter. Bernard also collected a career-high eight rebounds.

“I’m incredibly happy that she had eight rebounds tonight,” said Duquesne Head Coach Dan Burt. “I’m even happier with her shot selection. And most importantly, I’m really happy that she only had one turnover. She played a really good basketball game tonight.”

With Bernard’s stellar shooting in the first quarter, the Dukes jumped out to an early 16-9 lead. But the Rams used the final two minutes of the first quarter to hold Duquesne scoreless and tie the game at 16 a piece.

“If they leave me open, I guess too bad for them,” Bernard said.

Ayanna Townsend and Megan McConnell owned the second quarter, as they would combine for 9 of Duquesne’s 11 second-quarter points. Duquesne’s defense was key as VCU shot just 16.7% from the field in the second quarter, but the Rams were still able to keep it competitive. The Dukes led 27-24 going into the half.

Burt commended Townsend’s offensive output in the game.

“It’s a confidence game for Yanni. She’s going to have nights like she did tonight,” Burt said. “But there’s another level that Yanni can go to and getting this type of confidence takes you one step. Then the next step is instead of being 6-for-11, being 8-for-11 and finishing with a double-double. That’s our expectations for her.”

The third quarter was neck and neck until the 4:27 mark. The Dukes went on a 12-0 run that gave them a 45-32 lead. The run was propelled by Tess Myers, who hit two 3-pointers, dished out an assist and recorded a steal in a span of under 3 minutes. By the end of the third, Duquesne was up 47-36.

The Dukes maintained the lead for the remainder of the game, but VCU was able to make it too close for comfort toward the end of the contest.

Free throws from Timaya Lewis-Eutsey and a layup from Chloe Bloom helped the Rams make it just a 2-point game at 62-60 with 22 seconds to go. They continually fouled the Dukes any time they got the ball, which led to four successful free throws from Myers to solidify the win for Duquesne.

“To me, it was a little bit more of a hanging-on type of situation,” Burt said. “We’re hanging on at the end, and we’ve got to find a way around that. We’re continuing to invest in our young people that are there and trying to get them better to give us quality minutes when they do go in the game. But we’re not quite at the point where I’m comfortable with us having a late lead.”

In recent games, Duquesne has struggled with defensive rebounding, but against VCU, that issue was non-existent. The Dukes outrebounded the Rams 46 to 31, with 19 of those 46 boards coming at the offensive end.

“We made a concentrated effort to do rebound drills the last two days, and it paid off, especially when you looked at the first two quarters,” Burt said. “We did a really good job of boxing out, and overall we did [it] against the team that probably has more size than us. To outrebound them by 15, and to have 11 more offensive rebounds, you have to feel really good about that.”

With just five games left in the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season, it was important for Duquesne to secure a win and avoid a three-game losing streak.

“I used to not enjoy wins, and as you get older, you need to appreciate every time you win, and you have to take the lessons from them,” Burt said. “You definitely don’t want to have a three-game losing streak. And so, it’s nice to get a win going into the break. It keeps everyone in a positive mood. It gives incentive for the kids to get in the gym.”

The victory gave Duquesne its 12th home victory on the season, which is one win shy of tying the school record for most wins at home in a season.

“The school record is 13,” Burt said. “There are two different teams that have held that, and our kids, they know that. They know that, and they’d like to set the record, so they’re cognizant of it, and they’re going to chase that record really, really hard.”

Of Duquesne’s five remaining games, two will we played at the fieldhouse.

The Dukes will return to action on Sunday, when they take on La Salle in Philadelphia.

Duquesne’s next home game will be Feb. 18 against Richmond.