NEW YORK – A nine-game winning streak, the school's longest in three decades. The best conference start in school history. There are plenty of reasons to pay attention to Duquesne basketball.
There used to be only one.
Since that horrible night on campus in 2006 when five basketball players were shot leaving a dance, Duquesne was known for how it handled the situation.
Now, the Dukes are making news in the sports pages, not in the front of the newspaper.
Ron Everhart hadn't even coached a game at Duquesne when the shootings happened on Sept. 17, 2006. Now he is in charge of the team that is tied with Xavier for first place in the Atlantic 10 after Wednesday night's 91-72 victory over Fordham.
"I used to like to think that when it happened that somebody would write about us for basketball-related reasons," Everhart said. "Or because we raised $2 million for new locker rooms or that there is a $380 million facility right across the street from our campus or that we chartered here for this game. Those are things that didn't happen before Mr. Amodio and myself got to Duquesne. I would like to think that our kids are playing at a level that will continue to earn some of the recognition that goes beyond the tragic circumstances that were newsworthy in the past."
None of the current players were at Duquesne when Stuard Baldonado, Shawn James, Kojo Mensah, Sam Ashaolu and Aaron Jackson were wounded that day. The seniors' personal history is of all .500 records or better. A far cry from the program that won three games the year before Everhart arrived and the 11 straight sub-.500 seasons that preceded it.
"This program had been down so long," athletic director Greg Amodio said. "Being able to give these guys the assets they need to be successful, it isn't that hard in the long run. You've got to be able to provide the assets to recruit better student-athletes. Better student-athletes gives you a chance to win more ballgames. More basketball wins help you sell more tickets and that money can be put back in the program."
Still, it was Everhart who became the face of the program. He was the one who had to rally the players and keep the community upbeat in the days — and season — after the shootings.
"Ron's ability to handle that adversity was unparalleled because no one had ever dealt with that," Amodio said. "What we kept talking about was read, react, do the right things. Ron did. He was all about the kids, the families and out of that situation other potential student-athletes saw what Duquesne is all about. ... We won 10 games with a depleted corps that year and that was monumental in itself and we've been able to build on that every year."
The current group of Dukes play an uptempo style leading scorer Bill Clark called "hectic" and Everhart called "organized chaos."
Clark scored 23 points Wednesday night to keep the winning streak going. T.J. McConnell had 14 points and 10 assists and Damian Saunders added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Duquesne (14-5, 6-0 Atlantic 10).
The winning streak is the school's longest since the 1971-72 season. The Dukes, who made nine of their first 11 shots against Fordham, used a 12-0 run to take a 22-9 lead and they were up 45-36 at halftime. Their biggest lead was 88-66 with 2:23 to play.
"We try to play more uptempo with the press and try to get easy buckets in transition," Clark said. "We're a decent halfcourt team with a lot to improve on, but I feel like when we get into our transition game we are at our best."
Freshman Branden Frazier had 19 points for the Rams (6-12, 0-6), who lost their eighth straight overall and their 32nd straight in conference play. Their last league win was a 67-65 victory over St. Bonaventure on Jan. 28, 2009.
First-year Fordham coach Tom Pecora knows Everhart well from their days battling in the Colonial Athletic Association at Hofstra and Northeastern, respectively. Pecora could look over at the other bench and see where his program can go.
"Ronnie and I talked about that before the game," said Pecora, who inherited a program that won a total of five games the last two seasons. "They had three wins before Ron got there and they built it and we will be similar in some ways. It's no secret. You recruit your tail off, get good players and raise the talent level and then coach 'em up. But you've got to be patient and it's easy to say I'm going to be patient."