The Soko and Severe Show visited The Bluff Wednesday night, and Duquesne held on late to push its winning streak to five games with an 87-81 victory against Fordham to open the Atlantic 10 Conference season.
Fordham freshman Jon Severe scored a game-high 35 points, including 19 in the first half, but the Rams (7-7, 0-1) couldn’t match up with Duquesne senior forward Ovie Soko, who sparkled for a career-high 29 points and 9 rebounds.
“I feel like the key for us now really is to treat every game like it’s our Super Bowl, man,” Soko said. “Especially in the A-10, where wins are so hard to come by.”
With the victory, the Dukes (8-5, 1-0) matched their Atlantic 10 win total from the 2012-13 season, when they finished 1-15 in conference play.
“We definitely got the monkey off our back,” sophomore guard Jeremiah Jones said, then gestured toward Soko, who sat out a season ago because of transfer restrictions. “Ovie was miserable going through it, but I was a little bit more miserable because I was the one playing.
Soko brought the circus, too. Late in the first half, junior guard Tra’Vaughn White looped an alley-oop pass off the backboard to a trailing Soko, who finished the breakaway with a monster two-handed slam.
With 20 points by halftime, Soko became the first Duquesne player to score 20 points in five consecutive games since Bryant McAllister in 2006.
“He looked like a young Amar’e Stoudemire there,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said of Soko, “pulling down rebounds, sprinting the floor and making plays.”
Duquesne coach Jim Ferry added: “I think Ovie is an all-league Atlantic 10 player. Every night that we walk out on the court, we’re going to have one of the best players in the league.”
Only 14 months ago, Severe was seated behind the Duquesne bench on an official recruiting visit. He entered the game as the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer (20.5 ppg), and torched the Dukes early, scoring 15 of the Rams’ first 23 points.
“That’s why we recruited him so hard,” Ferry said with a laugh. “The kid makes baskets. He’s a shot-maker. … But if he scores 35 and we win over the next four years, we’ll take that every night.”
Duquesne led, 48-35, at halftime and maintained a double-digit deficit for most of the second half, but Fordham pulled within three points with two minutes remaining and battled to the finish.
“I think it was more them than us,” Ferry said. “It’s hard to keep them down.”
Jones put the game away by hitting 5 of 6 free-throw attempts in the final 32.6 seconds.
The Rams neutralized sophomore guard and Highlands graduate Micah Mason, holding the Dukes’ 3-point threat to 5 points on three shots, but Mason recorded a career-high 7 assists.
Duquesne bullied its way down low, outscoring Fordham, 36-14, in the paint. Junior forward Dominique McKoy, Soko’s partner inside, scored 10 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for his third double-double this season.
Ferry, who underwent a procedure Friday to have his gallbladder removed, smiled after the game and quipped, “At least it wasn’t my lucky gallbladder that had us on the win streak. So, I’m OK.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published January 8, 2014 9:18 PM