Duquesne pushing Temple for Atlantic 10’s best team

By Scott Cournoyer

Courtesy Duquesne Athletics

The Duquesne University men’s basketball team was projected to finish eighth in the preseason polls this season, with three-time Atlantic 10 conference champions Temple University expected to take the crown once again. Last Saturday, the Dukes (11-5, 3-0 A-10) beat the nationally-ranked Owls, 78-66, for their sixth-straight win which also tied them with the Owls atop the conference standings..

Duquesne’s Damian Saunders, who was last year’s defensive conference player of the year, scored 10 points to go along with nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals to lead Duquesne over Temple, which is off to one of the best starts in school history entering conference-play.

The Dukes never looked back after starting the game on a 19-1 run while shooting nearly 67 percent from the floor in the first half. The win marked the first victory for Duquesne against a ranked Temple team in its last 12 contests dating back to 1956. It also marks the third all-time win for the program against ranked A-10 opponents. So far, Duquesne has gone 5-0 in the month of January, the best start they’ve had since 1971, when it went 14-0 after the start of the new year.

Colonials Ready to Battle at Richmond

Duquesne hasn’t been the only surprise in the A-10 conference this season. Like the Dukes, George Washington University was expected to finish near the bottom of the basement, but has caught the attention of everyone with a 3-0 conference start.

The Colonials (10-7, 3-0 A-10) have proven they are a worthy opponent, defeating conference foes Saint Joseph’s and La Salle to keep them at an arms length away, as well as blowing out Fordham at home a week ago.

However, Wednesday’s clash with Richmond at the Robins Center represents the toughest in-conference opponent GW faced so far this season. The Spiders (13-5, 2-1 A-10) are coming off a 78-74 loss to Rhode Island and will be hungry to make a statement at home where they are 7-2 this season. Richmond’s top player is point guard Kevin Anderson, who was recently named a finalist for the Bob Cousy award, which recognizes the top point guard in the country. The Colonials, who have won eight of their last 10 games, have won seven of the last 10 meetings against Richmond.

Outerbridge, Staten and McConnell Take Home Honors

Last week’s extraordinary performance by URI’s Orion Outerbridge sealed a 78-74 win for the Rams, and Outerbridge was named the A-10 Player of the Week. The junior scored 18 points, including eight-of-10 from the free throw line, while pulling down seven rebounds and collecting two blocks on his way to helping the Rams earn their first ever road victory against Richmond in school history.

Outerbridge then scored 15 points to go along with six boards as URI went on to defeat Saint Bonaventure. The Boston native averaged 16.5 points on the week, shooting 70 percent from the floor.

Freshman Juwan Staten of Dayton and T.J. McConnell of Duquesne were tabbed last week’s A-10 Co-Rookies of the Week. The award marks the fourth this season for Staten, who collected nine points and dished out six assists in the Flyers’ win against Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 12. Three days later, Staten notched a career-high 17 points against Xavier as Dayton lost, 81-76.

McConnell collected his third rookie award this season as he helped  Duquesne to a pair of victories against Temple and Saint Louis last week. The freshman scored a career-high 18 points against Saint Louis and averaged 10 points and four assists last week, as he leads the Dukes on a league-best six-game winning streak.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected]