By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
Last year when the Duquesne Dukes hosted the UMBC Retrievers and defeated them 89-70, it gave Duquesne its best start since 1979-80 at 7-2. After an 81-72 loss to the Retrievers (5-1), things feel much differently as Duquesne sits at just 3-5 with the annual City Game versus the University of Pittsburgh looming on Friday at PPG Paints Arena.
A big reason for Duquesne’s slow start to the year has been due to their lack of chemistry on both sides of the ball, but on Wednesday night, it was a lack of effort and disciplined defense that cost them the game.
Early on, Duquesne led 21-14 with 10:31 to play in the first half, and it seemed Duquesne would once again rout the Retrievers as it did a season ago. But, then the Dukes allowed UMBC to go on a 20-5 run in the first half, during which the Dukes were held without a single point for a 2.5-minute period.
“Well, you got to limit your turnovers, you know, to extend that lead,” head coach Jim Ferry said. “This game was all about defensive conversion. Once we missed, they started getting us in conversion, spreading us out and they shredded us.”
Over the course of the first 20 minutes of the game, the Dukes racked up a grand total of one steal and forced just three turnovers. Meanwhile, they allowed the Retrievers to shoot 59 percent from the field in the first half and a 53 percent (8-15) from behind the 3-point arc.
“I thought we got shredded in the first half on defense,” Ferry said. “They just moved the ball so quickly, and we couldn’t get out to the 3-point shooting. If you look at the statistics, we shot 64 percent from the field, 45 percent from 3 and 100 percent from the free-throw line, and we were down 9 — so that’s defense.”
In the paint against an undersized UMBC squad, the Red & Blue still surrendered 22 points in the paint and registered just three blocks in the opening half.
Disciplined defense is nearly the exact opposite of how Duquesne’s defense would be described. The Dukes fall for nearly every shot fake, they don’t obstruct passing lanes and they are lackadaisical in the rebound department.
Not only did Duquesne lose the turnover battle 17-10, it also scored just nine fast break points. Ferry’s team could desperately use those easy baskets, seeing that their big men are unreliable on the inside and the team shoots just 31 percent from behind the arc. But instead, Duquesne is forced to play all of its offense in a half-court set because it has limited opportunities on the break.
Entering last night’s contest, Duquesne had been allowing opponents to score 75 points per game — a high rate considering the only noteworthy team on Duquesne’s schedule so far was No. 1 Kentucky.
Duquesne’s inability to force turnovers, its lack of discipline on defense and its failure to guard the perimeter led to a beatdown by a team from the America East Conference and will certainly lead to many more losses in the future if Ferry and his team can’t turn things around defensively.
The bright spot is that in the second half, the Dukes held UMBC to just 29 points and 36.4 percent from the field. But the lack of defensive intensity in the first half made it tough for Duquesne to fight back in the latter half even with an improved defensive effort.
Duquesne proved that it is not ready to face an ACC school like Pittsburgh on Friday and the Dukes are certainly not ready for the grueling Atlantic 10 conference season. But whether the Dukes are ready or not, the season will go on, and the Dukes will be forced to adapt quickly if they have any hope of salvaging this season once A-10 play rolls around.