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Dukes to face a different Fordham

| Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Excuse me, about that 93-56 loss last season. Don't think Fordham doesn't remember it.

Judging from the way both teams' current seasons are headed, Duquesne isn't likely to produce anything close to another 37-point victory over the Rams, when the teams meet tonight at Fordham's Rose Hill Gym in New York.

Fordham (12-13, 8-6 Atlantic 10 East), under the leadership of A-10 coach-of-the-year candidate Dereck Whittenburg, is the surprise of the conference this season. Duquesne (7-20, 4-10 A-10 West), after nearly producing a breakout season last year, has regressed this season, winning only once in its past seven games and posting a 2-10 road record thus far.

But Duquesne, nonetheless, is seeking its fourth consecutive victory against Fordham in the series.

"We're still fighting for postseason play and we're just taking it a game at a time heading into the stretch," said Whittenburg, using perhaps the most overused cliche in sports.

But in most cases, there's a reason the phrase is relied on so heavily. For Fordham, the upstart Rams clearly need to concentrate on each game as it comes. A victory tonight would balance their overall record at .500, and that's a monumental achievement, considering Whittenburg's first season at the school produced a 6-22 mark.

"Our goals are lofty. We want to be an NCAA Tournament team and we want to be in the top half of the league. It's going to take better records than this, but it's special and we're humbled by it," said Whittenburg, who took over at Fordham after leading Wagner to the NCAA Tournament in 2003, where the Seahawks lost to Pitt in the first round.

Duquesne, which is coming off an uninspired 76-62 loss to Richmond on Sunday at Palumbo Center, isn't expecting to duplicate its lopsided victory of a year ago. But the Dukes, who close the regular season on Saturday at Massachusetts, expect to play better than they did in Sunday's debacle.

"That's behind us," Duquesne coach Danny Nee said. "We're facing a red-hot Fordham team. Dereck would be my coach of the year. What he's done has been magnificant. Bryant Dunston, the newcomer, has come in and played really well. Going to Rose Hill will be different that it's been in the past."

The 6-foot-8 Dunston, a New York native who played at St. John's Prep, earned his sixth A-10 Rookie of the Week Award, averaging 24.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in victories over Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure.

It was his eighth double-double of the season.

A majority of teams that line up to play Duquesne this season recognize the potential for an offensive attack from the underachieving Dukes, who got 27 points from junior guard Bryant McAllister in the loss to Richmond.

There's the usual descriptive pregame bouquets, such as "athletic" and "dangerous" and "scary."

But when the horn sounds, it's the Dukes who ususally have played scared, and their record can attest to it.

Still, Whittenburg was doling out compliments Duquesne's way with regularity this week.

"They are very capable," he said of the Dukes. "They can be a good-shooting team. If they get on a roll, they can be very, very dangerous."

Don't tell Nee, who has yet to enjoy a winning record in four seasons at Duquesne, which has led to a growing outcry from alumni and fans of the program.

"We can't control the outside -- the gossip, the radio and TV people, or even the alumni," Nee said. "We have to do this professionally, and that's what we're going to do."

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