Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
In their conference home opener, the Duquesne men’s basketball team turned some heads at the Palumbo Center on Wednesday night, knocking off cross-state rival Saint Joseph’s 71-68 after trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half.
The comeback was the third largest in head coach Jim Ferry’s tenure at Duquesne.
“I thought we learned a lot about our team in the first half. We finally responded and competed when we got down big and we learned a lot,” Ferry said. “We could have really lost composure and just packed it in with all that wackiness going on, and we didn’t. They executed down the stretch and came down with a big rebound and a big play. And that’s what we have to keep building on.”
The Hawks built a 29-17 lead with nine minutes to go in the first half. But the Dukes responded with vigor and entered halftime on a 17-7 run, shrinking the Hawks’ lead to just two points.
Senior forward Dominique McKoy, who finished the game with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks, knotted the score at 36 on his first jumper of the second half. After the Hawks and Dukes traded baskets on the following two possessions, junior guard Derrick Colter knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Red & Blue a 41-38 lead.
“To fight back and regain the lead was big for us,” McKoy said. “We were just playing hard. We didn’t hang our heads early in the game. We just kept fighting.”
The Dukes never trailed from there. They led by as many as 13 points with just under three minutes to go. The Hawks were able to shrink the deficit to just three points with 39 seconds to go, and had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer on the final possession. But McKoy would have none of it. He swatted the Hawks’ final attempt with two seconds remaining to seal the Dukes’ first conference victory of 2015.
The Dukes tightened up their 2-3 zone defense in the second half, something with which Ferry was pleased. They also shot 58 percent from the field in the second half, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
“We’ve been getting better defensively. Since we’ve turned and focused more on playing zone, we have gotten better,” Ferry said. “We’ve been better in conversion defense. We’re better in containing in penetration, which has helped us. And I thought we came up with some big stops in this game at crucial times to allow us to get out in transition as well.”
Colter led the way for the Dukes, racing the Dukes up the court after every rebound in the second half. He finished the game with 22 points, six boards and four assists, in addition to shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
“That kid’s just … he’s something special. Every night. You can always count on that kid,” Ferry said. “The kid gets what he deserves. He’s in the gym every day. He’s 5-foot-9 and he’s one of the better players in this league.”
The Dukes won their first game of conference play over Fordham last season, but then went on to lose eight of their next 10 games to mark a particularly tumultuous stretch in the season. They didn’t manage to notch their first quality win in the conference until a February victory over Saint Louis on the road.
This season, with an experienced core of juniors and senior Dominique McKoy, the Dukes grabbed their first signature win much earlier. With a cast of talented freshmen who will only improve with experience, Ferry was encouraged with the final outcome.
“It’s starting to come together,” Ferry said. “We’ve been consistently inconsistent with our confidence. I think we can build on this. A win like this is better than a win by 16 to 20 points because you really had to grind one out here. This is something we can now always go back to.”