Duquesne was outrebounded 21 times in 31 games last season. Overall, the Dukes were outrebounded by nearly eight per game.
First-year coach Jim Ferry has changed the Dukes defensive philosophy and emphasized toughness and rebounding with a variety of daily drills.
The hard work appears to be paying off. The Dukes (2-3) have been much more competitive inside, and Wednesday night they were dominant on the boards, a big reason they beat Youngstown State, 84-74, in the final game of the Legends Classic before a crowd of 2,325 at the Palumbo Center.
The Dukes manhandled the Penguins inside and enjoyed a 53-29 rebounding edge. That included a 19-9 edge in offensive rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points. Duquesne's 24-rebound edge was by far their best in at least a year after they failed to outrebound any team by even 15 last season.
In fact, the previous time the Dukes outrebounded a team by 20 or more was Nov. 13, 2010, in a win against Division II Bluefield State. The previous time they outrebounded a Division I team by 20 or more was Nov. 9, 2007, in a 70-point blowout win against Howard.
"We do rebounding drills every single day," freshman Quevyn Winters said.
"It is something we work on no matter what day it is and losers have to run, so the [drills] get extremely competitive."
Ferry was quick to point out that the Dukes emphasized different things defensively last season, which is why the rebounding numbers weren't good, but his approach to winning always has revolved around guarding the basket and dominating the boards.
"There are a lot of different ways to win games, a lot of different philosophies and none are more right or wrong than the other," Ferry said.
"But my philosophy has always been toughness and rebounding, we write it on the board and talk about it every day -- turnovers, free throws and rebounding, so winning the rebounding edge is one of our stated goals.
"But we don't just talk about it, we go out and work on it, we do drills every single day, even the day before a game, and we go after it. The drills are physical and the guys are aggressive. And I think it showed tonight in not just the numbers, but in how hard we played and how physical we were."
Winters and freshman Derrick Colter led Duquesne's offensive onslaught with 18 points each and Kadeem Pantophlet chipped in 13 while tying a career high with four 3-pointers.
But the player of the game for the Dukes might have been 7-foot-1 wide body Martins Abele, who dominated the lane.
Abele just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds, but he drew so much attention from the Penguins his teammates got a bunch of open looks.
"He is so big and takes up so much space that he gets high-percentage shots, both for himself and his teammates," Ferry said. "The thing with him is catching the ball. But once he catches the ball, good things happen for us, and I thought he was tremendous."
Winters, an all-tournament selection, added: "When Martins plays like that, it makes it so much easier for all of us because we can kick it in to him and the defense just sucks down on him and he can kick it back out or catch it keep it and then finish.
"It really is a lot of fun to play with him in the game when he is playing like that."
Youngstown State (3-3) was led by Kendrick Perry with 15 points and five assists, and Damian Eargle, chipped in with 14 points and grabbed five rebounds.
The Penguins jumped to a 5-0 lead, but Colter scored the next five points to spark a 17-2 Dukes run. That gave them a 10-point lead and nearly full control of the game until Youngstown State cut the lead to 75-70 with two minutes left. But a 3-point play by Jerry Jones pushed the lead to a more comfortable eight points, and the Dukes sealed the game at the free-throw line.