Duquesne aiming for home tournament game

| Wednesday, March 3, 2010

For Duquesne, there's a lot riding on tonight's Atlantic 10 Conference game at St. Bonaventure.

Ditto for the Bonnies.

Duquesne, St. Bonaventure and George Washington are tied for eight place in the league and are trying to earn a home game in the A-10 Tournament. Each team has two regular-season games remaining.

George Washington plays host tonight to Saint Joseph's, which is tied with La Salle in 12th.

The top 12 teams in the 14-team league qualify for the postseason tournament, with the top four earning first-round byes and the next four playing host to first-round games.

It's a change from recent years, when the entire tournament was held at one site.

The survivors of the first-round games March 9, along with the top four teams, will advance to Atlantic City, N.J., site of the remainder of the tournament beginning March 12 with the quarterfinals.

Duquesne (15-13, 6-8), whose three-game winning streak was halted Saturday in a 69-59 loss at Saint Louis, is hoping to make it a two-game sweep of St. Bonaventure (13-14, 6-8) this season.

The Bonnies, who lost to Duquesne, 70-69, on Jan. 23 at Palumbo Center on Melquan Bolding's 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining, are coming off an 81-74 victory over Rhode Island on Saturday at Reilly Center in Olean, N.Y.

It was St. Bonaventure's third consecutive victory following an 18-point loss Feb. 17 at No. 20 Temple. The two previous wins came against La Salle and Fordham, teams with a combined 3-25 conference record.

"I'm not sure if we're peaking yet," said Mark Schmidt, the Bonnies' third-year coach and former Robert Morris boss. "But we're playing very good basketball at the right time."

St. Bonaventure survived against Rhode Island, despite its leading player, 6-foot-9 sophomore Andrew Nicholson, fouling out after playing just 19 minutes. Nicholson, who scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half of the loss to Duquesne, finished with 11 points and just one rebound against Rhode Island.

Nicholson leads the A-10 in field-goal percentage (57.3), while St. Bonaventure senior guard Chris Matthews is first in the league in 3-pointers made per game (3.1).

Duquesne, which will conclude the regular season with a noon Friday game at Palumbo Center against Fordham, needs a healthy Damian Saunders as added insurance.

Saunders, who had 15 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting with St. Bonaventure, was sidelined for much of the Saint Louis game with head and stomach ailments as well as foul trouble (he had four). He finished with nine points — one on a meaningless dunk in the closing seconds — and five rebounds.

Saunders has been vilified by Saint Louis fans for stealing the ball from Billikins guard Kwamain Mitchell and scoring with Saint Louis running out the clock and in front by 12 points.

He said later he was frustrated by the Dukes' second-half collapse that saw them relinquish a two-point lead and stumble down the stretch.

"Damian is a very competitive player," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "He's been there for us all year. He's not out there to show anyone up."

The 6-7 Saunders, who has established himself as a candidate for A-10 Player of the Year, leads Division I in steals — 80 in 28 games, which broke his former school-record of 71, set last season in 34 contests.

Saunders, with 196 career steals, needs six to pass former NBA guard Mike James for third place on the Duquesne all-time list.

He also ranks fifth nationally in double-doubles (18) and rebounding (11.4 rpg) and ninth in blocks (3.3 bpg).

Additional Information:

Game info

Duquesne (15-13, 6-8 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (13-14, 6-8)

When/where: 7 p.m. Wednesday/Reilly Center, Olean, N.Y.

Radio: KQV-AM (1410)

Favorite: St. Bonaventure by 1 12

Series record: Duquesne leads, 55-47

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