The Duquesne Dukes might not win an Atlantic 10 Conference game this year but the lesson they learned Wednesday night in a loss to George Washington is that they have no chance to win if they don't play with intensity and maximum effort.
It is a lesson that Dukes coach Jim Ferry said he hopes sticks with his young team because he believes that they do have a few wins in them.
Then Saturday in a 73-65 loss to Xavier at Consol Energy Center, the Dukes showed what they are capable of if they play hard and with a purpose. Even though they lost, they had a lead with 12 minutes to play and were in the game until the end.
Ferry has been working with his players on this concept -- that the Dukes need to fight for every inch of the court just to be in position to win games.
"The lesson learned from the George Washington game to this game is, we had been playing a lot more like this than the way we played [against George Washington], and that's why we have been in so many games," Ferry said. "I thought against George Washington we got out-toughened, we got beat on the 50-50 balls and rebounds and it showed in the score. The message to these guys was that every game has to be an education and we have to learn from every game, and I think we did.
"The glaring thing we learned, and this is no surprise, is that with the effort we gave [against] Xavier we were in the game and had an opportunity to win the game. And conversely, with the effort we gave against George Washington, we had no chance."
Ferry said despite the fact that the Dukes (7-16, 0-9) are on an 11-game losing streak, there is no quit in his team and he was impressed by the way they bounced back after a tough game Wednesday against the Colonials.
He said he expected to see a good effort from them on Saturday because Friday they practiced with the same sense of urgency and competitiveness that they have had for most of the season.
"This is a resilient group," Ferry said. "We are going through hard times, it is hard right now but what I liked was Friday at practice when we ran through some very aggressive rebounding and one-on-one drills. We had guys diving all over the gym for 50-50 balls and competing as hard and playing as hard as you would see them do in a game.
"I keep telling them, if we keep working hard, if we keep playing hard, if we do the right things -- sooner or later it will translate to a few wins. But if we don't do those things, we won't win."
Ferry made the decision Saturday to start three freshmen for the first time this season -- Quevyn Winters, Derrick Colter and Jeremiah Jones -- and that meant his most experienced player, senior Sean Johnson, was relegated to a reserve.
It is a role that Ferry already had put his other experienced player and senior, center Andre Marhold, into earlier this season. He did it with Marhold in order to send a message. He said his message with Johnson was more about the way the freshmen have performed than anything else.
"I thought it was time," Ferry said of starting the freshmen. "The freshmen have played really well and really hard and aggressively, and I felt it was time to play them all together and take some pressure off Sean. I felt like maybe if the other team wasn't as focused on him, it may help him as well as us.
"I also felt like we had lost a bunch in a row, maybe it was not a bad idea to mix some things up. Believe me, we need Sean in order to have a chance to win. We need his offense and his leadership, and Marhold [who had 9 points and 10 rebounds] responded after a trough couple of weeks, so maybe he has learned some things as well."
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or Twitter: @paulzeise.