La Salle better than record shows

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Duquesne will take center stage today with a nationally televised matchup at Palumbo Center against La Salle, which made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last spring.

The Dukes (8-5, 1-0 Atlantic 10) are surging and on a five-game winning streak, but second-year coach Jim Ferry said this game will be a barometer for just how far the Dukes have come -- and how much farther they have to go.

The Explorers (8-6, 1-0) will be Duquesne's strongest competition since the Dukes squared off against Penn State two months ago.

La Salle scraped together a 7-6 record through a difficult non-conference slate and opened the Atlantic 10 season with a 76-72 victory Thursday against George Washington.

Ferry laughed when asked if the Explorers are, perhaps, better than their record.

"Absolutely, absolutely," Ferry said. "They're fine. I keep hearing they're 8-6, but I'm watching tape, too, and they're very good. They're one of the top teams in this league. They can very easily win this league and make another run in the NCAA Tournament."

The Explorers return four starters from a team that clobbered Duquesne, 97-64, last March in Philadelphia.

"We have to make this a dogfight," Ferry said. "We can't let them come in and feel comfortable. They annihilated us last year, killing us by almost 40 [points]. They dictated the tempo of the game right from the get-go, and they really came after us."

La Salle's balanced scoring offense is led by the three-headed attack of senior guards Tyrone Garland (13.9 ppg) and Tyreek Duren (13.0 ppg) and junior forward Jerrell Wright (13.3 ppg). The trio scored a combined 52 points last season against the Dukes.

Ferry called Wright, averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, "a stud low-post player," who, "if he's not the best low-post player in this league, he's definitely one of them."

Duquesne senior forward Ovie Soko had a career-high 29 points and nine rebounds Wednesday as the Dukes defeated Fordham, 87-81, despite Rams freshman guard Jon Severe scoring 35 points.

Soko landed atop SportsCenter's top-10 highlights of the night with an off-the-backboard, alley-oop slam dunk in transition. Sophomore forward Jeremiah Jones said the highlight created a buzz around campus Thursday morning, and then he laughed.

"It was kind of a routine play to me," Jones said, shrugging. "We've seen it before. But I guess that was the first time the nation has seen it."

The Dukes pride themselves on making more free throws per game than their opponents attempt, but that will be a tall order against the Explorers, who commit 15.7 fouls per game, the fewest in the conference.

"We're going to play the way we play offensively and see if they can continue to play without fouling," Ferry said. "Both teams do a good job of not fouling. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out."

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Scouting report

Matchup: Duquesne (8-5, 1-0 Atlantic 10) vs. La Salle (8-6, 1-0 Atlantic 10), 2:30 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.

TV, Internet: NBC Sports Network, GoDuquesne.com, RedZoneMedia.com.

Duquesne: Has won five consecutive games. ... Is shooting 50.5 percent and has assisted on 66 percent of its field goals during its winning streak. ... Has already matched its Atlantic 10 win total from the 2012-13 season. ... Senior F Ovie Soko (18.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is the third-leading scorer in the Atlantic 10.

La Salle: Leads the Atlantic 10 and ranks 12th nationally in fewest fouls per game (15.7). ... Junior C Steve Zack (9.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg) leads the Atlantic 10 with seven double-doubles. ... Senior G Tyreek Duren has committed just two turnovers in his last four games.

Hidden stat: Duquesne is unbeaten (5-0) with the current starting lineup of guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, forwards Jeremiah Jones and Soko and center Dominique McKoy.


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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