Key Lessons from BYU’s Surprise Defeat Against Duquesne in NCAA Tournament

Calista Alma
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March 22, 2024

When the matchup was revealed on Selection Sunday, Duquesne’s reputation for defensive toughness became an instant talking point.

Ranked in the Top 30 for defense by Ken Pom’s adjusted efficiency metrics, the Dukes displayed a level of physicality reminiscent of their Pittsburgh football counterparts, the Steelers. This robust defense was evident from the game’s start, catching BYU off guard.

In a must-win scenario, teams must bring their A-game in terms of intensity and physicality. However, BYU fell short in this department.

Early in the second half, Cougar forward Noah Waterman attempted to rally his team by contesting a rebound with Duquesne’s Fousseyni Trame. However, Trame’s aggressive elbow made it clear that the Dukes were prepared to dominate the physical aspect of the game.

“They outplayed us with their physicality right from the start,” remarked Mark Pope, acknowledging Duquesne’s early advantage.

They found themselves trailing 7-0 right from the start, a familiar scenario for BYU this season and in the NCAA Tournament.

Similar issues surfaced during the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech and recurred against Duquesne.

Questions arose about whether BYU should shake up their starting lineup for this crucial game. Should Jaxson Robinson have been given a starting role?

Head coach Mark Pope opted not to make significant changes for the matchup against the Dukes, sticking to his game plan.

However, slow starts plagued BYU throughout the season, proving detrimental in critical games, including the last two, which ultimately ended their season abruptly.

“I’m not entirely sure how to address that,” commented BYU guard Jaxson Robinson on their slow starts. “As a team, we’ve focused on improving this aspect throughout the season, but unfortunately, we couldn’t begin the game as we had hoped. That’s all I can say about it.”

In a critical moment during the second half, BYU’s Fousseyni Traore saw his shot in the paint roll halfway down the rim before bouncing out.

But on the very next possession for Duquesne, Jimmy Clark managed to sink a shot that bounced off the front of the rim, took another bounce on the rim, and then rolled in.

It was one of those days where luck seemed to favor Duquesne against BYU.

Every time BYU gained momentum, Duquesne found a way to respond.

Forward Jakub Necas, an underrated player for Duquesne, contributed 12 points and six rebounds. His timely baskets often halted BYU’s momentum.

As the game entered the final stretch, BYU’s Richie Saunders made a costly mistake with a bad pass that was intercepted by Jimmy Clark, known as “The Steeler,” who converted it into a fast-break slam dunk. This missed opportunity came when BYU trailed 58-56.

In the dying minutes of regulation, Clark once again capitalized on BYU’s errors, securing a crucial rebound off a missed free throw. BYU’s failure to box out on that play proved disastrous.

Such mistakes can be fatal in the NCAA Tournament, where every team is formidable.

Despite a successful inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference, BYU’s postseason journey was marred by familiar issues. Drawn against Duquesne in the NCAA Tournament, BYU was favored on paper but struggled when it mattered most.

The pressure of March Madness seemed to weigh heavily on BYU once again, a trend that has plagued the team in previous seasons.

Coach Mark Pope acknowledged Duquesne’s credit for the challenging game and praised his team’s effort despite the loss. However, BYU’s inability to seize key moments ultimately cost them the game.

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