The Duquesne men's basketball team was pounded Saturday night by VCU and as a result, Dukes coach Jim Ferry challenged his players to show some character and respond with a great effort Wednesday night against Saint Louis.
And while the Dukes didn't beat the Billikens -- Saint Louis won, 73-64, before a crowd of 2,702 at the A.J. Palumbo Center -- they certainly didn't embarrass themselves as they battled in a back-and-forth game until the Billikens pulled away with a late run for an Atlantic 10 Conference.
The Dukes (7-12, 0-5) and Billikens were tied at 55-55 after Queyvn Winters hit a 3-pointer with 4:26 to play.
But the Billikens' Cody Ellis made a jumper, then Kwamain Mitchell hit a layup and that seemed to spark Saint Louis.
St. Louis went on a 14-1 run and, by the time Jorair Jett hit two free throws with 1:13 to play, the Billikens led, 69-56, putting the game out of reach.
"This was a tough loss ... it is really our job as coaches to pick them up," Ferry said. "After getting totally overwhelmed Saturday by VCU, we challenged them and wanted to see how they responded, and I thought they showed some character against what I think is a very good Saint Louis team.
"But I thought we fouled too much and, we again, had too many empty possessions. I told them before the game if we outrebound them we will give ourselves a chance to win. And again at halftime I told them if we outrebound them by just one in the second half. But give Saint Louis credit, they made the plays at the end and give them credit for locking things down defensively when they needed to."
The Dukes fought hard with the Billikens under the boards -- they were only outrebounded, 40-36 -- but the Dukes sent the Billikens to the free-throw line 39 times.
To make matters worse, Saint Louis made 28 free throws, 19 more than the Dukes.
That deficit was far too much for the Dukes to overcome according to Ferry and he said it shows why free throws are such a critical part of the game.
"You can't miss 10 free throws against a good team like that, especially when we put them on the line 40 times [actually 39]," Ferry said. "They have some really good players and I thought we did a great job on them defensively in stretches and defended them the right way but then we fouled too much and we gave up offensive rebounds at critical points.
"If you look at the box score, we made more field goals than they did and we lost the game which means they beat us at our philosophy. We made more 3s, we made more field goals but they shot 20 more free throws than we did and you just can't overcome that."
Saint Louis had four players in double figures, led by Cody Ellis, who had 16 points and was 11of 12 from the free-throw line.
But down the stretch one of the biggest reasons the Dukes defense had some breakdowns was the ability of Billikens point guard Kwamain Mitchell to drive to the basket and either score or dish off the ball.
Duquesne guard Jerry Jones said Mitchell, who scored 11 points and had six assists, definitely hurt them down the stretch as did putting Ellis on the free-throw line so much.
"Fouls hurt us but also we fouled the wrong people, the one guy [Ellis] hit 90 percent of his and we sent him to the line a lot and that had a lot to do with it," said Jones, who had his first career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. "I think our breakdowns at the end were a little bit of both [Mitchell and bad defense]. We can't have breakdowns but [Mitchell] is a great player and you have to give him credit for making the plays down the stretch."
This was the seventh loss in a row for the Dukes and their eighth in nine games. The Billikens (13-5, 2-2) snapped a two-game losing streak
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise.