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Duquesne rallies to down Akron, 71-66, in WNIT first round

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 9:15 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Duquesne's Vanessa Abel shouts after being fouled while driving to the basket against Akron during the Women's NIT at Palumbo Center on Thursday March 21, 2013.

Vanessa Abel knows what it's like to have a basketball career come to an end.

She thought hers was over with Duquesne until the NCAA granted her a sixth year of eligibility in December 2012. With her team trailing in the second half of its first-round WNIT game against Akron, Abel was on the bench watching the minutes ticking down on more than just the season.

Then, with just under five minutes remaining and the Dukes down three, coach Suzie McConnell-Serio put Abel back in the game, and she took over.

The senior guard hit a mid-range jump shot and a 3-pointer, stole the ball at halfcourt, grabbed two rebounds and went 8 of 8 from the line to propel Duquesne to a 71-66 win at Palumbo Center. The Dukes (24-7) will play at Bowling Green on Saturday.

“It was great to see Vanessa take over and score the way she did because I had taken her out of the game when we were down by 11,” McConnell-Serio said. “She wasn't scoring and wasn't defending. When I took her out of the game, in my mind, it felt so bad that this was the way she could possibly end her career, on this type of game. I give her credit that she regrouped and had such an impact down the stretch.”

Abel finished with 16 points — all in the second half — eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wumi Agunbiade led the way with 22 points and eight rebounds, and Jocelyn Floyd had 11 points and five steals.

This is Duquesne's fifth-straight WNIT appearance but just the second time the Dukes have advanced to the second round. They made it to the third round in 2011 before losing to Illinois State.

Disappointed by their NCAA snub, the players admitted it wasn't easy to get revved up for Akron. At times, they played like it.

They trailed, 37-31, at the half, and Akron's Taylor Ruper's consecutive 3-pointers just 23 seconds apart gave the Zips a 47-36 lead with 13:16 remaining in the game. That's when McConnell-Serio called a timeout.

Abel said that was when the realty of how the Dukes were about to end their season took hold.

“No one wants to go out like that, especially playing the way we were,” she said. “That had a lot to do with it, and we have something to prove.”

After Abel hit a pair of free throws to make it 67-62 with 45 seconds left, Hanna Luburgh hit a 3-pointer for Akron and hit free throw to pull within one. Kacie Cassell fouled Agunbiade with 26.4 seconds remaining, and Agunbiade made both shots.

Luburgh led Akron (23-10) with 19 points and nine rebounds.

The Dukes said they feel they have something to prove.

“(Coach) believes we can make it to the championship, and I think we do, too,” Floyd said. “I hope we do.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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