Women batter Rams and Ramblers

Brentaro Yamane | staff photographer | Naelle Bernard crossed the four-digit milestone on Wednesday, in her fourth season of college ball.

Michael O’Grady and Rowan DuBois | Staff Writers

Megan McConnell and Naelle Bernard both reached the 1000-point mark as Duquesne women’s basketball stayed hot with a pair of Atlantic-10 Conference wins. They knocked off Rhode Island 70-61 on Saturday, and UMass 79-62 on Wednesday. The Dukes have now won six of their last seven games, and are up to fifth place in the conference.

Despite it being the closer of the two, Head Coach Dan Burt was particularly happy with his team after Saturday’s game.

“I think it was our most complete game of the season in terms of executing our gameplan both offensively and defensively,” Burt said.

The Dukes thoroughly outworked a Rams team ranked 16th in the country in opponent points-per-game by controlling the tempo. Duquesne’s defense was relentless, especially in the first half when they gave up a total of 21 points including just 6 in the second quarter. On the offensive end, it was another good shooting day for the Dukes, going 43% on field goals and eight-for-19 from three.

McConnell nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, even adding three steals and two blocks. Nae Bernard went a perfect three-for-three from deep. The catalyst behind the win, however, was undoubtedly Precious Johnson. Playing 33 minutes off the bench, her 13 points was a small contribution compared to her work on defense, where her 6-foot 4-inch frame took away the size advantage of the Rhode Island starters. Up in the grandstands, she was being cheered on by a particularly special fan.

“Her dad’s here from Sweden,” Burt said, “I joke about that, but she really extended her minutes today and was simply outstanding in every facet of the game. Sometimes really good players might need something little, for her, it just might be her dad being here.”

Johnson started the game on the bench; she has not started a game yet this season. But just past two minutes in, she was the first sub on in place of Ayanna Townsend, who had already logged two fouls. A 7-0 URI run to start and two ferocious blocks from Rhode Island’s Mayé Touré and Sophie Phillips may have also been factors in Burt’s selection of Johnson, who is the tallest player of Burt’s rotation. It was clear Duquesne needed size to have a chance.

“Her size really helps, there’s no question about it,” Burt said. “Rhode Island rolls into the gym with all these stallions, and she met all that physicality for 34 minutes. She’s legitimately 6’4” and very physically imposing, so when she puts it to use like she does today, we’re tough to beat.”

Johnson’s entrance into the game made an instant impact, as the Dukes recovered from their early deficit and held the Rams to no field goals for nearly four minutes. Johnson did not come off the court in the first half after she was subbed in.

“We had a good defensive gameplan against them,” McConnell said. “Our defense helps us win a lot of games, and today we played it to a T.”

The game opened up in the third quarter, and even when Johnson returned for Townsend about halfway in the play kept its quick pace. Bernard had the play of the game when she sank a three at the buzzer to put Duquesne ahead 52-44, even after 10 minutes where Rhode Island had outscored their entire first half’s output.

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. Once again, the game became defensive, yet only URI was scoring points. Duquesne didn’t score for nearly six minutes, and a late hard-fought possession with two offensive rebounds ended in Dee Dee Davis draining a three to cut the lead to 3 with just 48 seconds left. Duquesne finally answered when Johnson scored off the ensuing timeout, and that was as close as URI would get.

“We’re a super-experienced team at this point,” Hamilton said. “I think it showed today because we were able to stay calm and stay together when that got a lot closer than we wanted it to.”

On Wednesday, Duquesne didn’t let the game become as dramatic.

The first quarter consisted of scoring spurts and perimeter shooting. Early on, UMass jumped out to a 10-4 lead as Duquesne struggled to make shots in the paint. The Dukes eventually got hot though, knocking down four field-goals in succession. It was a collection of Duquesne turnovers however, that allowed UMass to keep the game close towards the end of the quarter.

McConnell got her moment on the last possession of the first quarter, as she drilled a 3-pointer to go past 1,000 points in her Duquesne career, and even up the score at the end of the quarter, 21-21.

Duquesne was able to open a gap in the second quarter by forcing eight turnovers and holding UMass to just one point in the first five minutes of the quarter. Much of the heavy lifting on offense was done by Naelle Bernard, who amassed 10 first-half points. Gabby Grantham-Medley aided the second-quarter effort as well, making two jump shots in the final minute to extend the Duke’s lead as they finished the half on top, 39-28.

Early in the third quarter, it was Bernard’s turn to reach a milestone, as she hit a 3 to reach her 1,000th point in her college career. Two possessions later, a Bernard layup would extend the Duke’s lead to 17. Despite that, UMass were able to stay within reach via good 3-point shooting, cutting the Duke’s lead down to 10 halfway through the third quarter. The Dukes eventually found their rhythm though, and Lauren Wasylson hit a 3 while time expired in the quarter to give Duquesne their largest lead of the game, 62-43.

It was more of the same for Duquesne in the fourth, as Wasylson tacked on two more 3s early, and the Dukes stayed strong defensively, fending off any chance of a UMass comeback. Duquesne took home the win 79-62. McConnell finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Bernard was the team’s high scorer with 15.

The Dukes hit the hardwood again on Saturday, when they host La Salle at 2.