“It was another Atlantic 10 war.”
Jim Ferry always has a way of describing things in his post-game press conferences. War may be an extreme perspective of a basketball game, but Wednesday night at the A.J. Palumbo Center was nothing short of that. Fortunately for the Dukes, this wasn’t their first rodeo in a close game this season.
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“These guys have gotten some unique game experience being in all these close games this year,” Ferry said. “Whether you won them or not, we know we didn’t win them all, but we’ve been in them and we’ve made plays to be in them. So I think it allows these guys to reach back to something they experienced before.”
That experience definitely showed tonight with freshmen Isiaha Mike. The Canadian import had the best game of his collegiate career to date, scoring 24 points and adding 13 rebounds. It was his first double-double with the Dukes and was the first points-rebound double-double for a Duquesne freshman since 2009.
“Coach has been telling me to more aggressive on offense and I took advantage of it tonight,” Mike said.
When asked about Mike’s progress this season, Ferry lauded the transformation in his game from when he first walked on campus.
“Isiaha is evolving into a full player right now as a freshman,” Ferry said. “When he first came in I thought he was settling on shooting jump shots. We showed him tape and we showed statistics and talked about using his whole game, to drive it, to post, to offensive rebound which he started doing a bit better. He has a full package and he is going to be able to develop that over the years.”
Seventeen of Mike’s point came in a first half that saw some of the main issues with the Dukes rear their ugly head. The most obvious, at least recently, has been their struggles at the free throw line. They were a dreadful 6-14 from the line in the first half (Mike was 3-7). The second half was better, 16-22, but shooting just over 61% from the line isn’t the best recipe for a win in the A-10.
Defensively, the Dukes were struggling to get stops in the first half. At one point, the Billikens went on a 14-2 run to put them out in front by nine. But these battle tested Dukes didn’t waver when hit with adversity. They were able to hold St. Louis without a field goal for the final three minutes first half to go into the locker room only down two. In the second half, the Dukes were again able to hold the Billikens without a basket for another crucial stretch of the game.
Like Ferry, freshmen Mike Lewis II, who was second in scoring for the Dukes with 15, pointed at their early season experience helping them in the second half.
“I think its maturity,” Lewis II said. “Starting off the season we were a pretty young team but as you play games and go through those situations, especially as many as we went through early on, you just get used to them.”
Expect another A-10 battle Saturday at high noon when the Dukes host the Dayton Flyers at PPG Paints Arena. The Flyers, who are 12-4 this season, are coming into Pittsburgh fresh off their first conference loss to UMASS 67-55. Duquesne’s last win over Dayton came two years at PPG, then known as Consol Energy Center, by the score of 83-73.