- Associated Press - Saturday, February 12, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ron Everhart was walking to the arena when he heard more than the city traffic that zooms past Duquesne’s basketball facility.

“Hey, Coach! I’m going to get my tickets to the Dayton game. Good luck!”

The brief encounter startled Everhart.

Yes, that was a real fan, standing on line to buy a suddenly hot ticket, because he really wanted to see the Dukes play.

“The neat part was someone was actually coming to our box office to buy tickets to a game,” Everhart said. “That whole walk-up thing is starting to kick-in.”

All because the Dukes are starting to kick down the idea that Duquesne is an also-ran in a crowded Pittsburgh sports market. Long one of the worst programs in all of college basketball, Everhart has the Dukes (16-6, 8-1 Atlantic 10) on a run to remember that finds them playing Xavier (17-6, 8-1) on Sunday for first place in the Atlantic 10.

Not Temple or Richmond or Dayton. But Duquesne.

And the Dukes will play for first just a Hail Mary’s throw from campus at the new, state-of-the art Consol Energy Center, home of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Big game, big arena, big crowd.

“We’re going to play our butts off,” freshman guard T.J. McConnell said.

Four-plus years ago, this probably wouldn’t have seemed imaginable. Everhart was thrust into the most horrific start to a new coaching job: Five players shot after a dance and more time spent in a hospital than on a basketball court.

The tragic night soon became the only reason fans knew about Duquesne.

For a depressed program that has long played in the shadow of Big East power and neighbor Pittsburgh, and has not even sniffed the NCAA tournament, it was an accident that could have flattened the team for good.

But Everhart, who was raised in nearby West Virginia and was a fan of Duquesne’s glory days, refused to use the shooting as an excuse for not moving forward with his rebuilding project. He’d earned a reputation as a shrewd motivator and a sharp recruiter, one who was able to turn around bad teams. He did it at McNeese State and Northeastern _ leading them both from losing records to the NIT.

But Duquesne was going to be his toughest task. The school, after all, was considered a coaching graveyard.

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