Megan Duffy has orchestrated one of the most grand program reversals in the nation this year by not focusing on that very fact.
Surprised? No, Miami University’s first-year women’s basketball coach isn’t really surprised.
“It’s been interesting because I think people thought it would take us a little bit longer to have the success we’ve had this season,” said Duffy, whose RedHawks (21-10) will host Duquesne (23-7) in a WNIT opener Thursday night at Millett Hall.
“I’ve always been somebody that just kind of kept my blinders on. I try to stay very humble and keep working hard, and I think that’s how I’ve found my success overall. It’s almost like that old saying ‘Let the cards fall where they may’ based on the work you’re putting in.
“We’re thrilled where the program’s at, and the good thing is we’ve got some young kids that are going through right now, so we’ll have them back. Then, as any coach knows, you’ve got to keep recruiting hard to keep building on what we’ve done this season.”
Duffy has led the country’s biggest win turnaround for a first-year coach as Miami went 11-21 last season. The RedHawks have found their way into the light after going 35-87 the past four years under Cleve Wright.
Miami has won 20 games for the first time since 2011-12. It’s advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.
And the RedHawks are playing their best basketball at a good time, winning 11 of their last 13 games. The two losses came against NCAA tournament qualifiers Buffalo and Central Michigan.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations, honestly,” said Duffy, the former Chaminade Julienne High School and University of Notre Dame star who coached at Michigan, George Washington and St. John’s. “When I saw our team, I got so driven into the process of changing the culture and the standards and recruiting that our main goal was as simple as getting a little better every day.
“The other big thing was just convincing them how to be winners. What it looks like. The work it takes. I think I’m most proud of the growth they’ve shown individually, which in turn has allowed our team to really improve from last spring.”
It’s been a defense-first approach for Miami. The RedHawks lead the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense (63.9).
Offensively, MU is putting up 69.7 points per game and has one of the MAC’s top scorers in sophomore Lauren Dickerson, who’s got a 19.8 average and is a first-team All-MAC player. The 5-foot-3 point guard is also getting 5.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while hitting 98 shots from beyond the arc.
Asked to describe herself as a player, Dickerson smiled.
“That little guard over there,” the Indianapolis native said. “That’s what I get a lot, so that’s how I describe myself.”
Junior forward Kendall McCoy is also averaging in double figures (12.6), and of course that’s a good thing. But Duffy said the RedHawks have taken that next step as winners because of bits-and-pieces contributions from other players who don’t have great statistics.
Savannah Kluesner, Leah Purvis, Kayla Brown, Baleigh Reid, Megan Galloway and Molly McDonagh are combining for 36 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists per game.
“I think that makes us difficult to guard now,” Duffy said. “We’ve kept things simple from the defensive side of things and continued to add a little bit more offense as we go.
“It’s not totally the style I want to play. In the next few years, I want to play a little bit more up-tempo, but obviously you have to fit to what your team can do and what will allow you to win.”
She said the Western Michigan game was the turning point for this team. Miami led by 10 at halftime in Kalamazoo on Jan. 20, then got outscored 46-25 the rest of the way in an 81-70 defeat.
“We came out and had one of our best first halves of the season, clicking on all cylinders. Then we fell apart in the second half,” Duffy said. “We became very stagnant on the offensive end when they took away some things. We kind of shut down a little bit. We needed to have the confidence to put together a full game.
“We had an incredible talk after the game and film session when we got back. What was great about our team was that they said, ‘All right, let’s learn from it.’ People say that all the time, but we put it into practice. We can have ups and downs in games and still win.
“We didn’t change personnel. It was mind-set. The expectations are high, and as we’ve had some success, we kept raising the bar for them. We didn’t settle for, ‘Oh, this has been a great year and we’re happy.’ It’s been more like, ‘OK, what extra little step can we take?’ ”
Dickerson said the culture change this year has been worth the effort.
“Transitioning from last year to this year, we were expecting a lot better season, especially with the new coach,” Dickerson said. “She came in believing in us and just telling us that we can do it and pushing us. We worked hard for it, and it wasn’t easy at all. I think we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve still got a ways to go, though.”
What: WNIT first round, Duquesne (23-7) at Miami (21-10), 7 p.m.
Where: Millett Hall, Oxford
Series: Duquesne leads 3-1 and won the last meeting 78-58 on Nov. 26, 2013
Projected Duquesne starters: Julijana Vojinovic, 5-10, junior, guard (15.9 ppg); Chassidy Omogrosso, 5-4, junior, guard (16.8 ppg); Conor Richardson, 5-10, junior, guard (7.8 ppg); Paige Cannon, 6-0, redshirt sophomore, forward (5.7 ppg); Kadri-Ann Lass, 6-3, junior, forward (11.1 ppg)
Projected Miami starters: Savannah Kluesner, 6-2, sophomore, forward (8.1 ppg); Kendall McCoy, 6-0, junior, forward (12.6 ppg); Lauren Dickerson, 5-3, sophomore, guard (19.8 ppg); Kayla Brown, 6-2, senior, guard (7.5 ppg); Baleigh Reid, 5-10, redshirt junior, guard (5.0 ppg)
Next game: The Miami-Duquesne winner will face the Georgetown-Delaware winner on March 17, 18, 19 or 20 at a campus site to be determined