Duquesne couldn’t survive an ice-cold shooting performance by leading scorer Ovie Soko, and lost a sloppy, physical contest against La Salle, 75-56, Sunday at a packed Palumbo Center.
The defeat snapped Duquesne’s five-game winning streak. The Dukes (8-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10) managed a season-low 56 points and shot just 24 percent from the field in the second half.
“In the second half, we couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” second-year coach Jim Ferry said, shaking his head.
Soko, a senior forward, had scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games, but he struggled mightily against the Explorers. He scored 12 points on 3 of 15 shooting and committed seven turnovers.
“I’m not a historian, but someone told me a MacArthur quote recently,” La Salle coach John Giannini said, referring to World War II general Douglas MacArthur. “He said, ‘If we try to defend everything, we defend nothing.’ ”
So the Explorers focused on Soko, the Atlantic 10’s third-leading scorer and rebounder. They forced Soko to the perimeter and closed off driving lanes, all while keeping him off the free-throw line.
La Salle, a surprise Sweet 16 team last spring, stayed true to form as one of the least-whistled teams in Division I. The Explorers kept the Dukes off the line, where they thrive, allowing just 17 free-throw attempts — 12 fewer than Duquesne’s season average.
The Explorers overcame a five-point deficit late in the first half to take a 27-26 lead with 2:45 left in the half thanks to numerous Duquesne errors, including back-to-back traveling violations on Soko.
As the Dukes unraveled, La Salle parlayed the momentum into a five-point halftime advantage.
“It was a tale of two halves for us,” Ferry said.
After a tight first half, the game took on shades of these teams’ last meeting, when the Explorers triumphed, 97-64, in March.
La Salle held a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half, stretching it to as many as 21 points, but Giannini saw Duquesne as a “dramatically improved” opponent.
“They’re much better than they were a year ago,” Giannini said. “I’m not nuts about playing them a second time [this season].”
La Salle guard Tyreek Duren scored 23 points and fellow guard Tyrone Garland had 17. But the true key to the Explorers’ runaway victory was center Steve Zack, who hounded Soko and added 13 points and 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
“I think he is just tremendous,” Ferry said of Zack. “He’s a double-double every night. He’s got about five ‘hockey assists’ every game. He just sees the floor and allows everybody else to play.”
Sophomore guard Derrick Colter carried the Dukes early, scoring 12 first-half points, but was held scoreless in the second half. Junior forward Dominique McKoy had 15 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
NOTE — The Dukes are back in action at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 or on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published January 12, 2014 4:43 PM