A year ago, Duquesne forward Ovie Soko, sidelined for the season after transferring from UAB, could only sit and watch as the Dukes were pummeled and punished in conference play, going 1-15 in the Atlantic 10.
As Duquesne (7-5) opens its Atlantic 10 schedule tonight against (7-6) at Palumbo Center, just what can these Dukes take from their dismal experience last year?
“Just how tough the A-10 is,” Soko said. “The A-10 is an animal. I feel like it almost doesn’t get enough credit for how tough the conference really is.”
Duquesne and Fordham sit in the bottom half of the Atlantic 10 standings after each of the conference’s 13 members emerged from the non-conference season with a record of .500 or better.
“The real deal starts [tonight],” coach Jim 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.”
On the visitors’ bench will be two very familiar faces — fourth-year coach Tom Pecora and freshman guard Jon Severe, the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer (20.5 points per game).
“We’re best friends,” Ferry said of Pecora, his friend for the past 25 years. Both Queens, N.Y., natives, the two coached in New York City — Ferry at LIU-Brooklyn, Pecora at Hofstra and Fordham — and have stayed close every step of the way.
“He’s a little bit older than me, and you can feel free to share that,” Ferry said, laughing. “We do not enjoy playing each other. Somebody’s got to win, somebody’s got to lose.
“Tommy has done a fantastic job with that group. It obviously didn’t take him long to get Fordham relevant again in New York City with New York City kids.”
Severe selected the Rams over the Dukes and a host of Division I offers last spring. The Duquesne staff needed a scorer and recruited Severe heavily, but the New York City product opted to stay home.
“I’m happy for the kid,” Ferry said. “But I’m disappointed we have to face him now. Players like this, you don’t stop them; you just try to make life difficult for them.”
Tonight’s game will feature three of the conference’s top four scorers, with Fordham senior guard Branden Frazier (18.5 ppg) and Soko (18.1 ppg) checking in behind Severe at third and fourth.
“It’s a team game, and you have to approach it that way, but those two guys are obviously the head of the monster,” Ferry said of the Rams’ backcourt.
Fordham downed the Dukes, 82-75, in the Atlantic 10 opener last season. Ferry is confident, though, that Duquesne, riding a four-game winning streak, is “significantly better” and more prepared this time around.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.