Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
After notching their second consecutive win of the season and fourth straight victory at home, the Dukes are clicking on all cylinders at the right time of the season.
With an inexperienced team, the Dukes struggled through the early portion of the Atlantic 10 schedule. But after dropping six straight conference games in just 18 days in January, the Red & Blue have showed resiliency through the second half of their conference schedule. If you don’t think they’re rounding into a team that can make some noise in the Atlantic 10 tournament in a week and a half, then, as Coach Jim Ferry would say, you don’t know basketball.
The progression this team has made in just two months, from a squad that was still finding its identity early on to a team that is moving the ball seamlessly and finding quality looks at the basket each time down the floor, has been fun to watch.
With five scorers in double digits and a cast of big men who can cycle in and out of the game relatively interchangeably, the Red & Blue jumped out to a 19-6 lead in the first seven minutes of action and never looked back from there. They held off a number of surges on their way to a win over the visiting Saint Louis Billikens less than six weeks after losing to them road.
Wednesday night’s win marks the third time this season that the Dukes have defeated a conference opponent in the second matchup after losing the first.
On Jan. 24, the Dukes lost big to George Washington on the road. GW shot 9-of-17 from 3-point range in the first half of that game and never really looked back from there. But when the Colonials came to the Palumbo Center on Feb. 11, the Dukes dominated the game and won 78-62. Four players scored in double digits.
The Red & Blue lost to Dayton on the road in the conference opener on Jan. 3, but looked like a completely different team at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday. After knocking off Dayton at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday, the Dukes beat the St. Louis Billikens 79-66 at the Palumbo Center. “I think that just shows some maturity,” Ferry said.
At the moment, the Dukes have a rotation that runs nine deep. Without junior guard Jordan Stevens, who has been suspended indefinitely since the Dukes’ Feb. 11 matchup with GW, Micah Mason and Derrick Colter have carried the load in the backcourt. In the five games since Stevens was suspended, Mason has averaged 19.4 points in just under 38 minutes per game, while Colter has put up 15.4 points in 36 minutes per game.
Junior guard Jeremiah Jones has done his part in filling the stat sheet as well. In the last five games, he’s averaged 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Against Saint Louis, he tied a career-high with 16 points.
The frontcourt is where the Dukes have depth, and that has showed. The big men got into a bit of foul trouble against the Billikens. At one point late in the second half, Dominique McKoy, L.G. Gill and Darius Lewis all had three fouls.
With Jordan Robinson playing steady minutes off the bench and providing a wide frame to clog the paint, the Dukes finally have depth down low, something that has been a trademark of Ferry’s teams in the past.
“At that five spot its been kind of by committee,” Ferry said. “It’s about what do we need. Do we need size, quickness, [and] who is in foul trouble? Those guys are doing a good job and staying ready.”
That’s not even mentioning freshman forward TySean Powell, who grabbed four rebounds in just eight minutes.
“Wait until Ty’s body develops and catches up with his athleticism,” he said. “This offseason is going to be big for him. He has really good potential.”
When you put it all together and Ferry’s guys start playing mistake-free basketball in rhythm, pushing the ball up the floor, the result from Wednesday night is one you will see more often.
Remember, only Dominique McKoy will be graduating. That means the rest of the Dukes you see contributing big minutes this season will be back next year, with even bigger sights set in the Atlantic 10.
But for now, just wait and see what these Dukes are capable of. They’ve showed flashes of a team that can compete near the top of the conference, and they’ll have a chance to prove that in Brooklyn in two weeks at the Barclays Center for the A-10 Championship Tournament.
If the Dukes can continue to play at the level they’ve been playing at home, they’ll be a dangerous team in that tournament for years to come.