Duquesne coach Jim Ferry couldn't have asked for a better final tuneup before the Atlantic 10 Conference season than the Dukes' 79-55 victory against Appalachian State Thursday night at Palumbo Center.
Senior forward Ovie Soko had 22 points and 8 rebounds, his fourth consecutive 20-point game, and Duquesne held the Mountaineers (4-9) to the fewest points scored by any opponent this season.
The Dukes, fresh off sweeping a three-game road trip, closed the non-conference schedule with a four-game winning streak and a 7-5 record. A year ago, they were 7-7 in the non-conference slate before going 1-15 in Atlantic 10 play.
"Everyone's just understanding how hard you have to play to win in college," Soko said of the young roster. "We've just got an edge about us. It's good to win four in a row, but we know we've got to stay on our toes."
A corner 3-pointer by guard Chris Burgess on Appalachian State's opening possession gave the Mountaineers an early 3-2 lead and marked Duquesne's first deficit since the second half of a Dec. 17 victory against Saint Francis.
That Appalachian State lead -- its first and last lead of the game -- would span just 20 seconds. A layup by sophomore forward Jeremiah Jones at the 19:01 mark put the Dukes back ahead for good.
Within six minutes the Mountaineers were facing a double-digit deficit, and by halftime Duquesne held a 49-24 lead.
Ferry called it "the best, most complete first half of basketball we've played in my two years here." And the Dukes' lead never dropped below 19 points in the second half.
Ferry relied heavily on his reserves, sending substitutes onto the court in waves, two or three at a time, to keep a fresh five on the floor. The Dukes outscored Appalachian State, 32-7, in points off the bench, led by junior guard Tra'Vaughn White, who had 14.
"That's the way we've been trying to play all year," Ferry said, "but we've just never had all our pieces. We don't drop off that much when we go to the bench, and that lets us play really hard and really fast."
This game offered a pretty good indication of how well the quick-change approach can work, Ferry said. It reminded him of his first championship team at LIU Brooklyn in 2010-11, when Ferry rotated 10 players through the lineup and played nobody more than 28 minutes per game.
Soko added that Ferry's system lets players play "as hard as you can for as long as you can [before] coming out and taking a blow."
The only player to be kept out of the points column against the Mountaineers was sophomore guard Derrick Colter, the floor general, who had a team-high four assists. Duquesne had 22 assists on 29 field goals.
"It's becoming contagious," Ferry said. "We need to play that way."
Ferry's favorite number in the box score, though, was the rebounding totals: Duquesne 52, Appalachian State 33.
It was at this point a season ago, he said, when the team started losing rebounding battles. And that's when the season got ugly.
"We've really been working on it, really emphasizing it," Ferry said. "Tonight, we did a fantastic job on the glass."
The Dukes open the Atlantic 10 season Wednesday by playing host to Fordham (7-6).
"The real deal starts Wednesday night," Ferry said. "It's a heck of a league. We know we've got a long way to go. We know we've got to get better. But I think we're ready to take on that challenge now."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published January 2, 2014 8:55 PM