By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
Head coach Jim Ferry and Duquesne basketball needed a signature win in the most desperate of ways, and on a chilly Friday night at PPG Paints Arena, they earned just that.
But they didn’t just get a signature win, they earned a monumental win over their biggest rival at the most improbable time.
“Obviously it was a great win for our program, our university, our students, our alumni,” Ferry said. “As [the media] has all printed and wrote and said, and appropriately so, it hasn’t been much of a rivalry, and I think it is now. It’s a credit to our kids and how hard they played.”
To put the 64-55 win over the University of Pittsburgh in perspective, the Dukes had lost 15 straight matchups in the rivalry, along with 34 of the past 38 contests dating all the way back to 1982.
This wasn’t just any victory. This was a signature win that could possibly present a brighter future for Duquesne men’s basketball. It was also exactly the type of win Ferry needed on his résumé to secure his stay at least through the end of his current contract. And for the team, it was a confidence-boosting win that should give the Red & Blue a spark moving forward.
Not to mention, the Dukes snagged the rivalry win in front of a packed house at PPG Paints Arena. Finally, Duquesne capitalized on a potential opportunity to win over a fan base and a student section that have shown a lack of interest in recent years by giving them a reason to storm the court and celebrate arguably the biggest win since Ferry took over.
But the challenge now is for Ferry and his program to build off of this win. Every Duquesne basketball recruit should see footage from this game and the celebration that ensued. However, for a team that has already suffered losses to Canisius, Tennessee-Martin and the University of Maryland Baltimore College, the win over Pittsburgh can’t be their only marquee win of the 2016-17 season.
Luckily, they will have plenty more chances once Atlantic 10 competition rolls around — and don’t count them out just yet. Although the Dukes are just 4-6 to start the season following their subsequent loss to Robert Morris, there are some glimmers that imply this team could be starting to figure things out.
First and foremost, Ferry and his staff deserve credit for the class they brought in. Graduate transfer Emile Blackman not only supplied leadership, but also led the charge for the Dukes with a team-high 21 points as he shot 57 percent from behind the arc.
Freshmen Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike were both key contributors in the win over the Panthers. Mike Lewis contributed 15 points and proved he wasn’t shy of making clutch shots on a big stage, which earned him A-10 Rookie of the Week honors for already the third time in this young season. Mike claimed eight rebounds and three assists while also providing an emotional spark for the Dukes all night long.
“Isiaha Mike, as a freshman, was pointing at my clipboard and pointing at the offensive end saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens on that end, we have to stay true and keep defending,’ and that’s a freshman,” Ferry said. “So when you get a younger kid who is starting to say those things back, you know the message is at least starting to get through to them.”
Ferry has also kept his message consistent and that message has been to play good defense and to limit turnovers — something he credited to the win over Pittsburgh.
The Dukes surrendered a season-low eight turnovers to the Panthers, a number nearly half their season average of 15.8 turnovers per game. And on the defensive side, the Red & Blue give up 72.5 points per game and have allowed teams to shoot just 41.8 percent from the field. Those numbers include a 93-point explosion from the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
All things considered, Duquesne still has a lot to figure out, but maybe this was finally the game that can change the losing culture that has overcome Duquesne basketball. Maybe it was the kind of win this young group needed to help them recognize their potential. Or maybe this was just an outlier win amidst a rebuilding season for Duquesne. Either way, now is the time fans will really be able to find out what the 2016-17 Dukes are made of.
But most importantly, the players, coaches, students and alumni have bragging rights over Pittsburgh for the next 365 days.