In a contest billed as a battle of the bigs, it was an unrelenting barrage of 3-pointers and a poor defensive display Wednesday night that buried Duquesne at Palumbo Center.
The Dukes (1-1) didn't get their first basket, a floater by Tra'Vaughn White, for nearly five minutes, and they trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half. They battled back to take a halftime lead before falling, 84-81, to New Hampshire (2-0) of the America East Conference.
White led all scorers with 18 points, but Wildcats guard Scott Morris stole the headline, scoring 17 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting and sinking two free throws in the final minute to preserve the victory.
"I think we got thoroughly outplayed today, pretty much from start to finish," second-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said.
Wildcats forward Patrick Konan cruised past senior forward Ovie Soko in the lane for an uncontested layup with 41.7 seconds remaining to give New Hampshire a one-point lead -- a final example of what Ferry would call a "very soft" defensive effort.
Moments later, Derrick Colter's desperation 3-point attempt clanged off the rim and fell short, serving the Dukes their first loss of the young season.
"We lacked a complete defensive disposition from the start of the basketball game to the end," Ferry said. "It looked like we were running in cement on defense, and for as fast as we are that's unacceptable.
"I think the guys relied on offense, thinking they were just going to win by playing offense. When you score 81 points at home, you should win if you defend just a little bit. We didn't defend at all."
The Dukes used an up-tempo attacking offense and, after falling behind 13-4, switched to a 3-2 zone and a three-quarter-court press in hopes of limiting the effectiveness of New Hampshire's talented big men, Konan and Chris Pelcher.
"We couldn't stop them," Ferry said, explaining the switch to zone. "They were shredding us. ... We tried to gimmick it with some zone to get them out of their rhythm. That's all that really was, a gimmick."
The zone approach left the Wildcats wide open in the corners for 3-pointers they converted, time after time. New Hampshire finished 15 of 27 from 3-point range (55.6 percent).
The Wildcats caught fire in the second half, putting the Dukes on the ropes by hitting eight of their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc to build a six-point lead, 78-72, with four minutes left.
"We never guarded the perimeter hard," Ferry said.
Duquesne swooped ahead on a Micah Mason 3-pointer with 2:02 remaining, and the teams traded the lead twice more before Konan's definitive layup and Morris' clinching free throws.
Soko, who finished with eight rebounds and 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting, took full ownership of the defeat.
"It was a terrible night," he said. "For the team to be able to win, I can't play like that. That's just unacceptable."
Duquesne sent the Wildcats to the line just twice, committed five turnovers and had lopsided edges in points in the paint, second-chance points and fastbreak points. But those statistics were trumped by New Hampshire's 39-32 rebounding edge and shooting from 3-point range.
"It's got to improve," Soko said. "It's got to change -- quick."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published November 13, 2013 2:25 PM