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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Duquesne notches emotional victory

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— Most nights, this would be a score hardly noticed by anyone other than alumni and fans of the two schools: Duquesne 81, Youngstown State 75.

This was different. This was a special, worthy-of-attention night when a team that has had one winning season in 20 years, and little chance of having one this season, decided violence, tradition and an arguably stronger opponent wouldn't keep it from winning a game it probably should have lost.

Scott Grote scored 23 points in his college debut, and Duquesne, relying mostly on six underclassmen after having five key players shot earlier this fall, rallied down the stretch to surprise Youngstown State on Monday night in its first game since the shootings ravaged their roster.

The Dukes had no depth, little size - no starter is taller than 6-foot-6 - and only two players with previous major-college experience, yet beat a team that defeated them by 21 points last season. It was an inspiring performance by three freshmen, two sophomores and one junior-college transfer that had most of their fans on their feet the final five minutes.

"This is a tough bunch of guys," said Grote, a 6-6 freshman. "I thought our effort was unbelievable at times."

The Dukes got an emotional lift earlier in the day when 6-7 forward Sam Ashaolu, the most seriously injured of the players shot, made his first public appearance since the Sept. 17 shootings at a news conference. He asked his teammates to play hard and try to win - and later, he surprised them by attending the game even though he said he wouldn't. He watched from a private box so he wouldn't attract attention.

"We saw him up there in the suites," Grote said. "Every chance when we could, we chanted '1-2-3, Sam' - usually we chant '1-2-3 Dukes.' Everything we did tonight, we did for Sam and those guys."

The other three shooting victims - Shawn James, Kojo Mensah and Stuard Baldonado - watched from the bench or just behind it.

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