Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
After Saturday’s loss to Virginia Commonwealth University at the Consol Energy Center, Coach Jim Ferry was naturally disappointed with the result of the game. The Dukes, after all, rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit and were within one basket of tying the game, with possession of the ball and 2:26 left on the clock.
Down 64-62 against the No. 17 team in the country, the Dukes couldn’t find a good shot against a surging Rams defense. They tried to run what Ferry said was working in the last five minutes – “side and high-ball screens” – but the Rams played tight through each screen. The Dukes turned the ball over with two seconds to go on the shot clock and 1:25 left in the game.
A year ago, the Dukes led the Rams 31-27 at halftime on the road. In that half, the Dukes recorded only six turnovers, a mark for which Ferry and his coaching staff were aiming in this year’s matchup. Before the final media timeout with four minutes to go in the first half, the Dukes were right at their mark, with only six turnovers. But they finished the half with some sloppy play and turned it over three times over the final four minutes.
These are the little things that Ferry and his staff are keying on to push the Dukes over the hump to start winning in the Atlantic 10.
“We were good enough to beat Rhode Island and that came up short on to a 50-50. We’re good enough to beat Saint Louis on the road and missed our free throws, and we’re good enough to win this game and we didn’t. We’ve challenged each other to work harder, starting with the coaching staff. Everybody has to work harder to grind this out,” he said.
With only one senior, most of these Dukes are gaining experience on the fly. With sophomores L.G. Gill, Darius Lewis and freshmen TySean Powell and Eric James all contributing meaningful minutes, this team can take all the competition they can get. Because with each game moving forward, they have the opportunity to do the little things right.
Against Saint Louis last Wednesday night, the Dukes outrebounded the Bilikens 37-36, but left 19 points on the floor after shooting 13-of-34 from the free throw line. Against VCU, they again used their length to their advantage and dominated the Rams on the glass 44-28.
The Dukes have not gotten the results they want in terms of the conference standings, but Ferry believes they are getting better and they will be a very good team by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
“We are getting better. Anyone who doesn’t see that just doesn’t understand basketball,” he said.
The Dukes have 13 games left in regular season conference play before the Atlantic 10 Championship kicks off on March 11. They’ve made significant progress this season and have shown flashes of a team that can run with the best in the conference.
They will play three games in the next seven days against teams with a combined record of 34-18 overall and 10-5 in the A-10 in St. Bonaventure, George Washington and Richmond.
One thing is for certain: Ferry will have his team ready for what’s next in each matchup. From there, it’s a matter of execution for a full 40 minutes.
“I said to them, ‘We have to work harder. We have to challenge each other to work harder and knock this wall down.’ It’s an inexperienced team, and now we’re getting experience. Now we have to pull these out.”