WBB falls to champ Richmond in semis

Photo courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | The Dukes’ season ends with the loss in Henrico.

Jack Morgan | Staff Writer

The Duquesne women’s basketball team produced a strong showing at last week’s Atlantic-10 Conference tournament, but it was not enough, as they fell to top-seeded Richmond in the semifinals from Henrico Sports and Events Center in Virginia.

Duquesne’s trip to the A-10 semifinals was their first since the 2018-19 season, when they also fell in the penultimate round.

The five-seed Dukes got a single bye to start the tournament, so they were off on Wednesday. UMass beat La Salle in the opening round game, and so the Minutewomen became Duquesne’s first matchup of the tournament. Since Duquesne had already routed UMass earlier this year in Massachusetts, a victory for Duquesne was to be expected.

What was a surprise was how the game began for the Dukes. The Dukes turned the ball over on their first four possessions of the game. Miraculously, they only found themselves down 4-0 with 7:33 to go in the first when Duquesne Head Coach Dan Burt called a timeout. Duquesne restored order from that point on, and went on a 21-6 run to end the quarter, and the Dukes carried a 39-26 lead into the half.

The second half was the Megan McConnell show. She scored 17 in the final 20 minutes, and was dominant on both sides of the ball, contributing two steals as well. Duquesne stretched the lead to 15 by the end of the third, and in the fourth, they extended it to 27 with less than a minute to go. They ended up taking it by 24, 81-57.

Duquesne was then tasked to take on George Mason. The Patriots blew out Duquesne at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse earlier this year, but this one was the complete opposite.

The Dukes got out to a quick start in the first quarter. In the first 5:30, they outscored George Mason 18-4. Nae Bernard hit two 3-pointers during the stretch to kick-start the offense. The Patriots continued to chip away at the lead slowly. By the end of the half, they had cut the lead to 6.

The second half was where things got intense. Duquesne stretched the lead to 7 on two different occasions. The second of which came when it was 47-40. George Mason responded with a speedy 7-0 run in just 1:49 of game time. Duquesne snuck into the fourth with a slim 51-50 lead, but it was quickly erased by Sonia Smith and the Patriots. Smith hit a layup to put her side up 54-53, and after Dukes’ guard Jerni Kiaku responded in kind, she hit a tough reverse layup to pull her team back in front.

The teams traded buckets, until with less than a minute to go, McConnell made a nice entry pass into the post where only Precious Johnson could get to it, and Johnson finished strong to give Duquesne a lead it would never surrender, despite the controversy that ensued, when the Patriots thought they had the game won with less than a second left.

After Tess Myers misfired on an inbounds pass with 8.6 seconds left, Smith took a handoff and drove her way toward the basket. She made the layup and was fouled. However, the foul was ruled before the shot and the bucket did not count.

On the ensuing inbounds pass with 4.8 seconds left, the Patriots again thought they should have had two free throws after Walton got undercut by Tess Myers. Myers seemed to trip over her own feet and fell right underneath Walton, and at first, it was ruled a shooting foul that would send George Mason to the line with a chance to win the game.

However, the officials went back and reviewed the call and changed their mind, despite the use of review in that situation not being permissible. They changed the call to illegal contact before the ball was inbounded, which doesn’t allocate free throws. Even though the Patriots got a clean look off on the ensuing inbound, they missed, and Duquesne survived a 63-62 finish.

After the game, the Patriots issued a statement of their frustration with the foul call being reversed. Mass outcry was heard by the A-10, who issued a statement of their own the next day.

“The Atlantic 10 acknowledges the misapplication of the rules by the officials… The decision made by the crew to reverse a call made at .5 seconds remaining in the game was not permitted within the rules. The A-10 apologizes to both George Mason and Duquesne Universities.”

Regardless, the Dukes moved on to the A-10 semifinals and got a third crack at the Richmond Spiders. The two teams split the season series, with Duquesne claiming a 72-59 win at home on Jan. 24th and Richmond defending their homecourt with a 90-74 win on Feb. 28th.

The first quarter was evenly contested, with five lead changes and the largest lead for either team at 4 points. Duquesne led 12-8 with 3:38 to go in the first, however, Richmond would finish the quarter on an 8-0 run including 6 points from Addie Budnik. Budnik was a force all afternoon, leading all scorers with 22 points. She had 17 of those points in the first half.

Duquesne went down 27-19 with 5:37 to go in the half, and they made their best run at this lead in the following minute and 18 seconds of play, cutting the lead to two thanks to a couple of big buckets from Jerni Kiaku. But their run fell short, and the Spiders finished the half on a 10-2 spurt to lead 37-27.

The second half featured more of the same. Grace Townsend played a large role in the Spiders running away with this one, scoring 10 points in the half. Things were kept under control by Richmond, and they polished off a 80-66 win over the Dukes.

Richmond would go on to win the A-10 championship on Sunday over fifth-seeded Rhode Island, 65-51.