First-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry has a simple philosophy when it comes to basketball -- if the other team can't score, they can't win the game.
The Dukes are slowly accepting his approach and have improved in seemingly every game in that regard.
Saturday, the Dukes showed why that philosophy is a sound one as they locked down the Maine Black Bears for the final seven minutes to grab an 87-73 victory before a crowd of 2,689 at the Palumbo Center.
The Dukes (4-3) led, 66-64, with 8:27 left, but that's when they turned up the heat defensively, limiting the Black Bears to three points over the next five minutes. That set up an 8-3 run that proved to be decisive.
Duquesne led, 74-71, with less than three minutes remaining. Senior Sean Johnson's layup widened the Dukes' lead to 77-71 with 2:10 to go. On Maine's next possession, the Dukes forced a turnover that forced the Black Bears to foul the rest of the way.
The Dukes then put the game away by making 9 of their last 10 free throws.
"You have to defend the ball and rebound, that's how I believe you win games," Ferry said after Duquesne's defense held Maine to nine points in the last 8:27 and six in the final 6:19.
"Part of our success down the stretch was that [Maine's All-America East Conference forward] Alasdair Fraser fouled out, but that's part of the game, too.
"I thought, however, we guarded extremely well as a team against a very difficult team to match up with because they have two phenomenal guards and that meant we needed to rotate and defend as a team and we did a good job of that."
Johnson, who scored 13 points, said playing great team defense is a matter of pride, and it is something that the Dukes value more than just about anything else besides rebounding -- which is a part of their defense.
And he said the Dukes got extra motivation to defend when, with 6:19 to play, P.J. Torres was ejected for a flagrant foul after he elbowed a Maine player in the head.
"We didn't switch up on defense late in the game, we just played to our principles and kept playing hard," Johnson said. "And then, at the six-minute mark, when P.J. got the flagrant foul, we knew that we had to turn our intensity up on defense because we were a man down.
"Coach [Ferry] wants us to take pride in defense, and we play it at high intensity level. We want to be known as a good team at playing defense and rebounding."
The Dukes also limited the Black Bears possessions by outrebounding Maine, 37-34, overall and by seven in the decisive second half.
Duquesne shot well from 3-point range, making 12 of 24. Many were open shots as they reversed the ball and made skip passes against the Black Bears' zones.
The Dukes' penetration forced Maine's zones to collapse. And, when they did, Duquesne kicked the ball out to the 3-point line for open jumpers -- the kind of shots Ferry likes .
"We talk about unselfishness wins games and we saw that today as we shared the ball," Ferry said. "Our 3-point shooting can be a strength and weakness as it is sometimes feast or famine. That's why it is not a big philosophy of mine, but we got those 3s the right way -- we went inside and then out, and I am fine with that.
"When you make 50 percent from your 3s [you have] a good chance to win."
Freshman Jeremiah Jones led Duquesne with a career-high 15 points and five rebounds and Kadeem Pantophlet tied a career high with 14 points while freshman Quevyn Winters added 13.
Game: Pitt vs. Duquesne in the annual City Game, Consol Energy Center.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise.