Duquesne Basketball: Upset of Saint Louis A Huge Moment For Program

By Gerrit Ritt
Duquesne Dukes
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Duquesne, but the 12-15 Dukes pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season Thursday, shocking No. 10 Saint Louis on the road to snap the Billikens’ 19-game win streak.

There was no reason to expect a win out of Duquesne in this one. Nobody could even have predicted so much as a competitive game. The Dukes had lost six of seven coming into it, which included a home loss to a 10-17 George Mason team.

However, the stars aligned perfectly and the Billikens’ fans went home disappointed in what otherwise would’ve been an Atlantic 10-clinching win. Saint Louis, who still owns a two-game on St. Joseph’s in the conference standings, will likely go into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed, barring upsets in at least two of their three final games (they hold the tiebreaker over St. Joe’s as well). And they’ll probably be either a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tourney.

This game could’ve been their league coronation, but instead it was all about the Dukes, who needed a victory like this to salvage a season that was quickly unraveling.

Duquesne has been to the NCAA Tournament just five times and hasn’t made the field in 37 years. They rank 10th in a 13-team A-10 this season, and they had won just three of their previous 13 games before Thursday. Despite that, they have an incredibly rich basketball history.

In 1950, Duquesne’s Chuck Cooper became the first African-American to be drafted by the NBA, picked No. 12 overall by the Boston Celtics. The Dukes won the NIT in 1955, were NIT runners-up twice (1940 and 1954), made the NIT Final Four on seven occasions and advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four in 1940.

They’re the home of two-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion Norm Nixon, who twice led the NBA in assists and once in steals in his 12-year career. Duquesne is also the only school in NCAA history to have back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft, courtesy of Dick Ricketts in 1955 (St. Louis Hawks) and Sihugo Green in 1956 (Rochester Royals).

Unfortunately, the success hasn’t been there in recent years, the low point being in 2006 when five Dukes players were shot in an on-campus incident that rocked the university and the team. Despite being incredibly shorthanded, they somehow won 10 games that year and then followed it with a terrific 17-win campaign, the first of five straight .500 or better seasons.

However, an 8-22 performance in 2013 and another likely losing season this year needed a high point, and this was clearly that moment. It was the first road win over a Top-10 team for the Dukes since 1962, and it was clearly the biggest win in coach Jim Ferry‘s two seasons on the job.

“It’s a great win for our program,” Ferry said. “We have to build from this.”

And build they will. Five of the team’s six leading scorers are underclassmen, with sophomore Micah Mason currently leading the nation in three-point shooting (56.6 percent). There’s nowhere to go but up.

The country needs teams with the history of Duquesne to be successful again. It’s good for the game, and it’s especially good for the mid-major conferences who often rely on those legacies to recruit diamond in the rough players who might otherwise not come there. Without them and without the types of wins they gave us Thursday, we lose out on some of the best stories in college basketball.

Gerrit Ritt is a college basketball columnist for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GMadness1 or add him to your network on Google.

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