Ovie Soko had shouldered the blame for the past two games, losses to New Hampshire and West Virginia, and he left nothing to chance Wednesday when Duquesne played host to Albany at Palumbo Center.
The senior forward registered a game-high 23 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists for his third double-double of the season, and the Dukes weathered a strong second-half surge by the Great Danes to capture a 70-59 victory.
“I thought he played pretty close to a perfect game,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said of Soko’s night, which included two blocks, two steals and a perfect 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
Albany knocked off the Dukes (2-2) in the season opener a year ago but couldn’t buy a basket in the first half.
The Great Danes (2-2) crippled themselves with 13 first-half turnovers and a 5-of-20 shooting display — the lowest opponent scoring total in any half in Ferry’s two years at Duquesne.
Duquesne led, 30-16, at halftime.
After the break, though, the Dukes fell into familiar defensive lapses, and Albany couldn’t miss.
The Great Danes hit their first eight shots of the half, equaled their first-half scoring within five minutes and took the lead, 44-43, with 12:28 left on the clock.
“We came out flat — really flat,” Soko said. “That lead evaporated in minutes.”
Albany’s comeback was no surprise to Ferry, who had noticed the trend during his prep work for the Great Danes.
“You know what’s funny?” Ferry asked.
“[Albany] did the same thing against Siena and NJIT — they were down in both games. I knew it. I knew they were a second-half team, but I didn’t want to say anything to the team because I didn’t want to jinx myself about them coming back.”
A back-and-forth battle ensued, with both teams trading baskets as their top scorers, Soko and Sam Rowley, spent long stretches on the bench with foul trouble.
Sophomore guard Tra’Vaughn White came off the bench to carry the Dukes in Soko’s stead, tallying five assists and 15 points, including a trio of 3-point plays.
Albany guard Peter Hooley led the Great Danes with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
The Dukes finally pulled away at the four-minute mark as Soko scored on back-to-back possessions and forward Jeremiah Jones connected on the next to turn a 58-58 tie into a seven-point advantage.
The pressure wasn’t on the offense, though.
It rarely will be with this team.
In this, their third game in the past seven days, the Dukes finally locked down on defense.
After the Great Danes had hit 17 of their first 21 shots of the second half (80.9 percent), they couldn’t solve the Dukes late, missing their final 10 shots from the 5:28 mark to the buzzer.
“In the huddles, the main thing being repeated was that defense is going to win the game,” Soko said. “We can get stops and we’ll get out in transition and score. Offense isn’t the issue. If we can stop people, we’ll win.”
Duquesne will now enjoy a 10-day break before taking on Pitt on Nov. 30 in The City Game.
The focus? Still defense.
“What’s that [movie] — ‘Eight Crazy Nights’?” Ferry asked. “We get 10 crazy days of defense. That’s what we’re going to work on.”
He added, grinning: “Turkey tastes a lot better after a win.”.
First Published November 20, 2013 8:58 PM