The start of this season has been a journey for the Dukes. Few programs experience the highs, lows, twists and turns this team has been through in one season, let alone one month. There was the epic win over Pitt that broke the City Game curse followed immediately by a demoralizing loss to RMU. The two losses at home at the buzzer to Canisius and UT Martin. Going to Lexington and taking a 34 point beating to Kentucky.
After a nine day layoff, the Dukes started their journey back up versus Jackson State of the SWAC. Despite being 3-8 and ranking 335th in points per game, the Tigers held wins over Southern Miss, at Drake and were coming off a season where they were one point away from the NCAA tournament.
Donning throwbacks from the 70’s, their performance Monday night let reminisce the glory days of the Norm Nixon era. The Dukes did not trail the whole game, jumping on Jackson State from the opening tip on their way to a 74-62 win, bringing their record to 6-6.
A notoriously slow starting team, it was just the opposite for the Dukes on Monday. A big first half had them going into the locker room with their biggest halftime lead of the season, which Coach Ferry called the best he’s seen this year.
“I thought we played our best first half of the season,” Ferry said. “I didn’t think we shot great which I knew we weren’t just from not playing for a while. It was the best in regards to limiting turnovers, execution and out rebounding our opponent.”
The break seemed to be most beneficial for Tarin Smith. Coming into the season fresh off knee surgery, the transfer from Nebraska has been trying to work himself back to 100%. Though we have seen flashes of his ability, we had yet to see his full talent on display.
Monday night, as Ferry put it, Tarin Smith finally looked like Tarin Smith. The New Jersey native was all over the stat sheet, falling one point shy of tying his career high with 22 points while tying a career high 6 assists and 7 rebounds. Smith pointed out his success from the foul line, 9-12 shooting, was a difference maker in his big night.
“I got to the line a lot and that helped my game a lot,” Smith said. “I felt like I had good energy and felt liked I played good defense. Getting to the line helped me stay aggressive the whole game and it really helped me out.”
According to Ferry, this was the first time Smith had a chance to catch up on his rehab and he went at it hard.
“The week of finals it gave him that time to really be aggressive (with this rehab),” Ferry said. “I think he has gotten some of his strength back. This is the first time we actually have seen him with the explosiveness that he had last year and we saw it a little bit in practice. Hopefully he can continue to progress and get back at the level that we know he can play at.”
The Dukes will wrap up their non-conference schedule Thursday afternoon at 2 pm when they play host to Colgate. On Wednesday night, the Duquesne women’s team will host a rare meeting with a top 5 team when #4 ranked Maryland comes to the A.J. Palumbo Center. Tip off for the game is 7 pm.