The Duquesne Dukes men’s basketball team entered their 100th season with low expectations from voters, picked to finish just 11th in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
However, the team wasn’t worried about the outside chatter and the players bought into head coach Jim Ferry’s system early on, producing praiseworthy results as they have already matched their win total from last season.
With sharpshooters Micah Mason and Derrick Colter returning for their senior seasons, offense was never a concern. The Dukes’ backcourt has combined for over 30 points per game so far this season and has been forced to carry this team at times.
Most recently Colter and Mason combined for 50 points in a 95-88 win over the then top seeded St. Bonaventure Bonnies, which improved the Dukes to their current 12-6 record.
Duquesne started this season on record pace storming out to a 10-2 start. However, senior Jeremiah Jones endured a season ending ACL tear in their 10th win over Robert Morris. Without their third leading scorer in the lineup, the Dukes began to skid and lost four straight games, including their first three A-10 contests.
With the offense already intact, Ferry’s focus was firmly on the defensive side of the ball throughout the Ireland tour and the offseason, and it is evident in the their performance this year. The Dukes have limited opponents to 40.5 percent shooting— their lowest opponent field goal percentage allowed since the 1970-71 season.
The biggest difference between last year’s underwhelming team and this year’s winning ballclub is the aforementioned defense. Last year the Dukes had to rely on their offense to win games and this caused them to blow big leads late in games.
Now with the improved defense, the Dukes are able to get stops in the later stretches of games. Combine that with their explosive offense and teams are having trouble keeping up on the scoreboard.
The pleasant surprise for this team is the vastly improved play of sophomore Eric James. He has tallied 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the Dukes this season, using his length to create matchup problems for the opposition.
James started the season as the sixth man and created some valuable depth off the bench for the Dukes. However, he was pushed into the starting rotation after Jones went down. This is where the problem lies for Duquesne going forward.
The pressure weighs on the shoulders of some raw talent coming off the bench. Sophomore TySean Powell is the bright spot with his unthinkable athleticism. Averaging 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, Powell brings energy and explosiveness. However, aside from Powell the bench is rather underwhelming with nobody else putting up more than 3.0 points per game.
The lack of production off the bench forces guys like Mason and Colter to play 38 and 40 minutes respectively in big games as they did against St. Bonaventure. It might not be detrimental just yet, but come A-10 Tournament time when every game is a must win back-to-back, the Dukes are going to need that depth.
Duquesne has proven that they are significantly better than they have been in recent years. Ferry has the Dukes playing well on both sides of the ball. However, the bench will determine how much damage this team can really do in the A-10.
One thing is certain though, the Dukes are finally a force again in the A-10. They may not finish atop the conference standings, but their senior leadership from Colter and Mason will ensure that they are in the mix as the season winds down. Look for the Red & Blue to finish in the top half of the A-10 standings— decidedly ahead of where the voters placed them in the preseason.