- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Duquesne has not been considered a basketball power for about half a century. The Dukes have not reached the NCAA tournament since 1977. The Atlantic 10 program in Pittsburgh has endured 11 consecutive losing seasons and posted only one season above .500 in the last 19.

While losing has become a tradition at Duquesne, the Dukes’ latest season of futility is alarming even by their subterranean standards.

The Dukes, who play host to No. 14 George Washington tonight, are on pace to break the program-record of 23 losses. Coach Danny Nee’s team (2-14, 0-5 A-10) has lost its last eight games, with the last five defeats coming by an average of 21 points. Their closest defeat in that stretch was 62-48 to Richmond.

“The whole thing is caving in on me,” said Nee, the longtime Nebraska coach who is in his fifth consecutive losing season since arriving at Duquesne. “I have never seen anything like this where we suffer setback after setback. Boulders are falling on us. And we are a program fighting for respectability.”

Things began with promise as four starters returned from last season’s 8-22 team, including 6-foot-9 centerpiece Kieron Achara. The Scottish center was the A-10’s most improved player last season and selected second-team all-conference in the preseason. Bryant McAllister, who was second-team All-A-10 last season, was back for his senior season with the intention of reversing the Dukes’ dismal fortunes.

However, the first blow came when Achara suffered a torn rotator cuff in a preseason game and required season-ending surgery. That loss was followed by two starters — senior guard Jack Higgins, the team’s best perimeter scorer, and promising Western Kentucky transfer Ryan Lambert — leaving the team for academic reasons.

The Dukes now suit up only nine players, including walk-on Adam Souply, and are sometimes forced to have an assistant coach practice to have 5-on-5 scrimmages.

The result has not been surprising: a season-opening home loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff with McAllister serving a team-imposed suspension and a last-place finish in their own holiday tournament with losses to Troy and Appalachian State.

Only a smattering of fans attend games at the 6,200-seat A.J. Palumbo Center.

“I didn’t see this coming,” said McAllister, who has been one of the team’s rare bright spots, averaging 17.8 points and 4.5 assists as an emergency point guard. “You just have to fight through adversity. I am very strong-minded and trying to stay positive. I’m not going to quit.”

The Dukes’ wins were against Robert Morris and The Citadel, which was their most recent victory Dec. 20. Only three of their losses have been by less than 10 points, and they have been blown out by at least 20 on six occasions.

Their latest two losses have been 90-63 at Fordham and 85-63 at Dayton, which ended the Flyers’ seven-game losing streak.

Now there are whispers Nee, who took Nebraska to five NCAA tournament appearances in 14 seasons but has a 41-92 record (.308 winning percentage) at Duquesne, could be fired after the season. That could be tricky since he signed an extension in 2004 that pays him $300,000 annually through the 2007-08 season.

Meanwhile, the Dukes are desperately trying to salvage something from their dismal season. Duquesne is tied with St. Bonaventure for last in the A-10 and is hoping for a few late-season wins to avoid the embarrassment of being left out of the conference tournament, which will take 12 teams from the newly expanded 14-team league.

“It’s not fun losing,” said McAllister, who believes the No. 1 on-court priority is to tighten up the defense. “As bad as things are right now, our goal is to just win some games and sneak into the A-10 tournament. We know nobody believes in us. We try to stay positive. It’s just going to take one win to get over the hump.”

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