By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH — Rhode Island winning again in the crowded Atlantic 10 Conference race wasn’t a surprise, even though the Rams barely held off another league team that is playing much better than predicted.
What is unexpected is how close the Rams are to first place after being picked to finish far, far down the standings.
Kahiem Seawright put Rhode Island ahead to stay by making two free throws with 1:43 remaining and the Rams moved into second place in the Atlantic 10 by rallying in the second half to beat Duquesne 73-71 on Sunday.
Seawright scored four of his 21 points in the final two minutes and Keith Cothran came off the bench for 20 points as the Rams (22-8, 11-4) won their sixth in a row and 10th in 11 games, but not without a scare.
Duquesne (17-10, 8-6) trailed 73-68 with 11.6 seconds remaining after Seawright got free against the Dukes’ press for a dunk and Cothran made one of two free throws. But the Dukes had a chance to win it after Aaron Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds to go and Seawright missed the front end of a 1-and-1 less than a second later.
Rhode Island, with fouls to give, twice fouled after that to force out-of-bounds plays, and Jackson missed a desperation 3 from 25 feet just ahead of the buzzer that would have won it. Jackson ended with 24 points, scoring 16 of the Dukes’ final 20.
“There was some confusion,” Jackson said of a hurriedly drawn-up play in which Dukes coach Ron Everhart expected Jackson to be tightly guarded and either Jason Duty or Damian Saunders would take the final shot.
The Rams trail only No. 19 Xavier (23-5, 11-3) in the A-10 and are guaranteed of a first-round bye in the conference tournament that begins March 11 in Atlantic City.
“I’ll take winning by 2 points,” Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. “I’d take winning by a half-point. We were picked to finish ninth (in the conference), so this is unbelievable for this team. Now we’ve got to get the UMass game (on Saturday). That’s an important game for us.”
Rhode Island turned Sunday’s game around by going on a 13-1 run midway through the second half to seize a 60-54 lead after trailing by seven points early in the half.
Duquesne, coming off road wins against La Salle and Massachusetts, was repeatedly hurt by poor shooting in a game that was sloppy at times, with the Rams committing 17 turnovers and the Dukes 14. Duquesne was 6-of-28 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range and shot 43.5 percent overall (30-of-69).
“We didn’t make the shots that we’ve been making, and that’s what’s disappointed me,” Everhart said.
Melquan Bolding (Pictured) scored 16 points, Damian Saunders had 12 and Bill Clark 11 for the Dukes, but Clark got into foul trouble and didn’t score in the second half. Clark was 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and Eric Evans was 0-for-6 while missing all but one of nine shots.
Rhode Island shook off a poor first half (14-of-33) by making 16 of 24 shots in the second half, including a driving left-handed shot by Delroy James with 1:10 remaining that made it 70-66. James is the brother of former Duquesne center Shawn James.
“I thought that was the biggest basket of the game,” Everhart said.
The Rams were much better offensively after trailing 40-34 at the half because, Cothran said, “We weren’t settling for jump shots, we were trying to be aggressive. We kept attacking them.”
Jimmy Baron, the son of the Rams coach, helped out with 14 points and made 4-of-8 from 3-point range, giving him 341 for his career — one off the A-10 record held by Darnell Harris of La Salle. He scored in double figures for the 27th time this season.
The Dukes have two more regular-season games remaining, against St. Louis on Wednesday and at Dayton on Saturday, to win at least one and get to 18 wins. They haven’t won that many since going 20-10 in 1980-81.
The Rams are 9-5 on the road, their most road victories since also winning nine in 1991-92. Their 11 league victories are the most they’ve had since the 1997-98 team that went to the NCAA round of eight was 12-4.
Six A-10 teams have won 17 or more games, including Duquesne, a team with eight freshmen that was picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league.
“Nobody in this league is afraid of anybody else,” Baron said. “That says a lot about our league. Our league is as good as any in the country — I know, because we’ve played Duke and Oklahoma State and Penn State.”