PITTSBURGH — The Duquesne men’s basketball team took a short road trip to start Atlantic 10 play last weekend, and the result was a 75-72 win over the Fordham Rams to start the conference season with one in the win column.
The result was a big one for the young Dukes, which feature two freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup.
“Whenever you can go on the road, the first game of the year in conference play or the last game of the year, if you can get a road win, it’s huge,” said head coach Jim Ferry. We actually used it as a team-bonding trip. We left a little bit early. We went to New York. We had a big family dinner at Carmine’s in New York City. I kinda showed the kids a little taste of New York. We did Carmine’s, we went to Times Square and went [to Rockefeller Center] to see the Christmas tree. It was a good opportunity for us to bond again as a team.”
Freshman Mike Lewis II enjoyed the sights and the lights of the city in his first visit to the Big Apple and then he shot lights out in the Bronx, scoring 15 points.
“It’s a great confidence builder before for sure,” Lewis said. “It shows us that even if we don’t shoot the ball particularly well like we didn’t, we can still win games. If we play defense and cut down on our turnovers, we feel like we can run with people. … I think we needed that.”
The three-point margin of victory is nothing new for the Dukes, who have had six games decided by two possessions or fewer. The deluge of tight finishes has done a good job of prepping the Dukes for conference play.
“If we weren’t in all those close games, I think there could have been a different outcome at Fordham,” Ferry said. “We didn’t win all those close games. We won a couple and we lost a couple. But they’re in it. That’s what non-league play is all about.”
“With Fordham, I remember a call in the huddle and I said, ‘We’ve been in this situation before. We know what we have to do, so let’s come down and get this win,’” Lewis said. “That’s what we did.”
Lewis has now gone two consecutive games without a turnover and that figure is made even more impressive by the fact that the Rams were second in the nation coming in to Saturday’s contest. The ability of the freshman guard to be so responsible with the basketball so early in his career is a good sign for all involved.
“Starting the season, I had a lot of turnovers, but it was mostly charges,” Lewis said. “My coaches set me down with a lot of film to see the situations I was in. As I get more mature with the game, I’m finding more confidence.”
It’s just a part of what will surely be a season-long effort by Ferry to try to get his young players to play like they aren’t quite as young as they are.
“We need them to play more like sophomores than freshmen and they’re starting to get it,” Ferry said. “Now, can they consistently do that? We’re going to see. … When we don’t turn the ball over, we’ve won those games. We give ourselves a chance to win. When we turn it over at a high rate, we struggle.”
KALE MAKES COMEBACK
Duquesne inked a pair of graduate transfers before this season, and while Emile Blackman has been a revelation, averaging 10.7 points per game and providing much-needed leadership, Kale Abrahamson, who came from Drake, hasn’t done much at all. He’s been limited by a broken hand and he returned before the injury had fully healed, meaning that he couldn’t shoot much in his first few games.
But against the Rams, he finally looked like the player Ferry thought he was getting with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“He needed practice time,” Ferry said. “He had a broken hand, he couldn’t practice and then even when he did come back, he was playing with this big wrap and pad on his hand. We we were just kind of getting minutes, we weren’t really getting anything out of him. Now, he’s got the pad off the hand and he played the way we expected him to play.”
MORE RAMS AHEAD
The Dukes will try to go 2-0 in A-10 play for the first time since 2011 when they host VCU tonight. VCU — also the Rams — will provide a tougher test for Ferry’s young squad.
“In this league, you have to move on quickly,” he said. “Like I said, it was great to start with a road win, but whether you started with a road win or a road loss, you have to get rid of it quickly because in this league, the next game is what you really need to focus on.”
Among the challenges he expects his team to have is dealing with a vertebral group of three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup for head coach Will Wade.
“We’ve got to defend,” Ferry said. “Any time you play a VCU team, it comes down to rebounding and 50/50 balls. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to be tight defensively, we have to with the 50/50 battles and we have to win the glass. If you do that, you have a chance to beat VCU. If you don’t do that, not many teams can beat VCU.”
The Rams are 11-3 overall and their only losses came against power-conference foes Baylor, Illinois and Georgia Tech. In VCU’s A-10 opener, they beat George Mason, 73-64.