Joey Sykes | The Duquesne Duke
Though the Dukes were unable to exit Palumbo Center with a win Wednesday night, they silenced many doubters in their hard-fought 76-72 loss to the No. 19 St. Louis Billikens.
The Red & Blue headed into their first of two matchups this season against the Billikens on a three-game losing streak. St. Louis, on the other hand, was looking for their first 12-game winning streak in 20 years. This was not only the first time this season that Duquesne played a ranked opponent. It was also coach Jim Ferry’s first as head coach of the Dukes. The last time the Dukes played a ranked team was back in 2011 versus Temple.
Despite playing a ranked team, Ferry said he approached this game as just another matchup.
“This is the Atlantic 10. Everybody’s really, really good,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they got a number next to their name or not, beating St. Louis or beating Fordham equals the same. It’s an Atlantic 10 win. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
The Billikens, who have won their past four meetings against the Dukes, looked nothing less than a top-25 team in the opening minutes of the game. St. Louis opened the game with two 3-pointers and some strong defensive play.
However, the Dukes were not fazed and responded with authority. Huge efforts from sophomore Micah Mason and junior Dominique McKoy propelled to the Dukes to a 36-34 lead at the end of the first half. Mason knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half for nine of his 15 points on the night, while McKoy finished just two rebounds short of a double-double. He chipped in 15 points in the loss. The team finished the first half shooting 52 percent from the field and held the Billikens to only 44 percent.
Senior forward Ovie Soko, who finished the game with 18 points and seven rebounds, said the team knew the style of play St. Louis brings to the court.
“We’re going to need a good defensive team to play against a team like St. Louis,” Soko said. “Their one of the best defensive teams in the country. We knew we had to catch them on their heels when we could.”
The Dukes and the Billikens continued to trade blows heading into the second half. It seemed for the first time this year they weren’t going to squander a first half lead. With a little over five minutes into the second, the Dukes took their largest lead of the game when a layup by McKoy gave them a 6-point lead.
But with just over halfway through the second half, neither team managed to take control – there were nine lead changes in the final 10 minutes alone. In the last minute, the Dukes found themselves down a single point after St. Louis’ Austin McBroom nailed a 3-pointer to give his team a 73-72 advantage. With 13 seconds left, the Dukes were forced to foul. Down three, Ferry took a timeout to plan their final attack. Micah Mason scrambled to the corner and launched one final 3-pointer from the corner, but to the dismay of the crowd, it fell short. With that, the Dukes fell to 8-9 overall, 1-4 in the Atlantic 10.
McKoy described the final moments of the game from his perspective.
“We ran a play to offset the forwards so we could give Micah a look but it was over planned,” McKoy said. “I don’t think [Mason] really got his feet set and that’s a shot he usually hits too.”
Ferry believes this team is still heading in the right direction despite a four-game losing streak.
“You’re going to have a stretch where you lose a bunch of games in a row,” Ferry said. “The teams that can sustain confidence, focus, and understanding that the big picture is just about getting better; those teams will be better at the end of the year.”
The Dukes will look to end their four-game skid this Saturday at 7 p.m. when they take on the St. Bonaventure Bonnies in their last home game before a three-game road trip. They’ll head to the east coast to take on the New Jersey Institute of Technology, La Salle and George Washington before they return home to take qon George Mason on Feb. 8.
The Red and Blue’s rematch with La Salle will be broadcast on Root Sports on Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. They fell to the Explorers 75-56 in one of the program’s most anticipated games in recent memory on Jan. 12 when they played a nationally televised back-and-forth contest.