Julian Routh | News Editor
Nearly 4,000 people poured into the stands on Sunday afternoon at the Palumbo Center to cheer on the Dukes in their conference game against La Salle. The Dukes ended up losing to the Explorers 75-56.
A sea of red shirts engulfed the normally empty student section before the game even tipped off, and when the starting lineups were announced, the arena’s walls shook from cheering.
The secret is officially out. Duquesne students care about Duquesne basketball.
They heard through the grapevine that the team was on a five-game winning streak, the longest streak since they won 11 straight in the 2010-11 season. They heard that Ovie Soko was getting national recognition, including from some NBA scouts, for his five straight games with at least 20 points and his monstrous dunk against Fordham that gave him No. 1 on the SportsCenter Top-10.
They heard that Duquesne basketball was exciting again.
Unfortunately, no one got to see it on Sunday. Instead, they saw a tired squad who couldn’t manage to make a shot when it really mattered. An abysmal second half shooting performance left even Coach Jim Ferry in disbelief.
“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Ferry said, referring to his team’s 24 percent performance from the field in the last 20 minutes.
As for Soko, he wasn’t himself. Actually, he didn’t have the opportunity to. He wasn’t given any lanes; no open looks. The Explorers closed in on him as soon as he made a move to the basket, and dared him to shoot from behind the arc, where he connected only once.
They didn’t allow him to get to the free throw line much, either. Soko, who gets in more of a rhythm when he makes free throws frequently and consistently, stepped to the line only five times.
“They were clogging up the lanes,” Soko said. “They did a good job, to their credit, of keeping me off the line. They did a good job.”
La Salle also refused to give sharpshooter Micah Mason an inch of space to spot up behind the arc. This season, the Dukes have been able to dish the ball to Mason for open shots when the paint collapses. They got only one from him on Sunday.
It’s a shame, because the Dukes had an opportunity in the first half to take control of the game. They thought they could ride the energy from the crowd into the second half, but once the lead was gone and La Salle was up by double digits, it turned to frustration.
Duquesne should have beat the Explorers. Out of all the Atlantic 10 Conference games, this was one of the more winnable matchups. But to the Dukes’ demise, the Explorers played lockdown defense.
So to all the Dukes’ fans who left Sunday feeling miserable and shouting “typical Duquesne,” don’t lose hope. It was disappointing, but not a representation of how the season has been going.
Remember that the team had only one conference win and eight total wins all of last season. They have already matched both of those totals this season.
Remember that this squad is young, and can only get better with experience. Just imagine if everyone’s bests – the best Soko, the best McCoy, the best Colter- were on the court every game. The Dukes would be a power in the conference.
Remember to look to the future. The day is coming, and you’ll want to be there.