With a depleted and battered roster, the George Washington men's basketball team did not come into its Atlantic 10 Conference opener at full strength yesterday.

So when they needed depth at the end of the game, the weary Colonials were left wanting. After coming back from a 17-point second-half deficit to take the lead, GW fell to Duquesne, 94-89, before 3,495 at Smith Center. It was the first time in 14 years the Colonials had lost their conference opener and gave them their first three-game losing streak since the 1997-98 season.

"It took a lot out of us to make that comeback," freshman guard Chris Monroe said. "We shouldn't have dug that hole. . . . Our problem is we wait until our backs are against the wall until we start playing. Then when we do finally come back, we are either out of gas or we just mentally don't have it."

The Dukes (7-6, 2-0) had not beaten the Colonials (5-8, 0-1) since Feb 3, 1994, losing 10 in a row and 12 of the previous 13 meetings.

George Washington was without junior forward Mike King, who has not played in almost a month because of a strained shoulder, and junior center Patrick Ngongba, who has a broken finger.

"We're relying on a lot of guys who haven't played, a lot of walk-ons, anybody we can get," George Washington Coach Tom Penders said.

Less than five minutes into the second half, it looked as if the game was going to turn into a rout. The Colonials trailed 72-55. Duquesne seemed in control. Then George Washington began to chip away. For an 8 1/2-minute stretch, the Colonials held Duquesne to one field goal while they scored 21 points.

Freshman guard SirValiant Brown, who leads the nation in scoring at 25.9 points per game, keyed the run with a three-pointer. Brown, who was hampered by a sore hip, finished with 24 points.

"He should not be playing," Penders said. "But he's got heart. He's got guts."

But his play wasn't enough to carry the Colonials. Duquesne had six players score in double figures, and George Washington had just three. Monroe had his second double-double of the season, scoring 19 points and tying a career high with 13 rebounds. Center Albert Roma, who started his second game, had a career-high 11 points.

But after taking a 76-74 lead, the Colonials were unable to score for nearly four minutes and the Dukes reclaimed the lead. George Washington threatened--the Colonials trailed 90-89 with 16 seconds to play--but was unable to overtake Duquesne down the stretch.

The Colonials started poorly, falling behind 28-15. Penders called a timeout and made a mass substitution. He replaced four starters with three walk-ons and sophomore forward Jason Smith, who was averaging eight minutes a game.

"I said, 'Why not? Let's try it. Let's try these kids who go hard every day. Maybe they can do a better job,' " Penders said. "I wasn't ticked off at anybody. It was like we had to try something."

Monroe was one of the players who had to take a seat.

"Coach is going to prove his point," he said. "If you're not out there playing, he doesn't care who you are. You can be a star or whatever. He's going to take you out of the game. He's going to make sure he puts five out there who want to play."