Friday afternoon, at Duquesne’s last practice before boarding a plane to Richmond, Va., second-year coach Jim Ferry closed the Palumbo Center doors and cranked the volume on the arena’s sound system all the way up.
It was the best way Ferry could think of, short of putting the pep band on the baseline, to prepare the Dukes (8-7, 1-2 Atlantic 10) for their first visit to Siegel Center today to face preseason Atlantic 10 favorite VCU (13-4, 1-1).
The Rams are 8-0 at home this season and have sold out their past 43 home games, the fifth-longest streak in Division I.
“You’re not going to be able to hear anything,” Ferry told his team. “You’ve got to do a great job of communicating with each other on the court. It’s going to be a crazy environment. We’ve got to go in there with great poise and great focus and play with great composure.”
VCU annihilated Duquesne, 90-63, last January en route to its third consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
The Rams dropped a 10-point decision Tuesday night against George Washington.
The Dukes tried to overcome a 32-point halftime deficit on the road Wednesday against Saint Joseph’s, finishing on a 30-2 run but still losing, 84-75.
It was a first half unlike any Ferry had seen in some time. Duquesne didn’t score for nearly six minutes, and the Hawks shot 71.4 percent from the field in the first half, including 12-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
“It just snowballed,” Ferry said.
“They got comfortable and made shot after shot after shot. It was amazing how well they shot, and we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
The Dukes averaged 29.4 free-throw attempts per game through 13 games this season but had 27 combined attempts in their past two games, taking away a staple of Ferry’s offensive approach.
A bigger problem, though, is that opposing teams have shot the lights out from long range all season, an issue that has been magnified in Atlantic 10 play. All three conference opponents have hit at least 10 3-pointers, shooting a combined 47.8 percent.
“We’ve just got to continue to close out harder and run these really good 3-point shooters off the line,” Ferry said.
“With the size differential and length you get in the A-10, guys are a little bit taller and can see the rim a little bit better. We’ve got to try to work to take that away.”
Ferry said the Dukes’ focus is to put two consistent halves together in hopes of snapping their two-game skid.
“It’s about that word ‘consistency,’” Ferry said.
“We’re playing all these young guys, and that’s not an excuse anymore because guys have been playing, but what might have been good enough to win some games in the non-league schedule is not good enough in the Atlantic 10. The league is just good.
“It’s one of the most non-forgiving leagues in the country. It’s about matchups, and it’s about limiting mistakes. You could have a stretch where you don’t play well for five minutes, and that could be the game; you could just get blown out.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.