Dukes' youth rears its ugly head

DUQUESNE

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Duquesne was in for a rude awakening when it hit the road for a couple of Atlantic 10 games this past week against Saint Joseph's and VCU. The young Dukes now limp home after two losses only to turn around and face No. 24 Saint Louis (17-2, 4-0) Wednesday.

Duquesne (8-8, 1-3) alternated boom and bust and failed to put together a full 40-minute effort against the Hawks or Rams.

On Wednesday, the Dukes trailed by 32 at halftime against Saint Joseph's and stormed back against backups to take a far more acceptable nine-point loss.

Saturday, they held a four-point lead at halftime, frustrating relentless VCU on homecoming in Richmond, Va. But the Rams came alive in the second half, scoring 53 points and dominating on the boards to clinch an overwhelming 48-37 edge.

"I think everybody, including me, enjoyed the second half more than the first," affable VCU coach Shaka Smart said with a smile. "Halftime was good for us, because it allowed us to hit the reset button."

VCU, the Division I steals leader, forced 17 turnovers.

"The reason we had a four-point lead is that we were hanging with them on the glass rebounding-wise and we only turned the ball over six times," Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said.

After beating Fordham to open A-10 play, the Dukes have entered a three-game skid in which they have lost by 9, 15 and 19.

The inconsistency is hardly a surprise. The Dukes lack depth and experience, two key ingredients to a winning recipe in the A-10.

Of the 11 players Ferry sent onto the floor this past week, only four had played an A-10 road game before. Every player other than senior guard Jerry Jones is in his first or second season with the Dukes.

Ferry has vowed not to use the team's youth as an excuse, but another roller-coaster season was expected. In the fast and physical A-10, players must grow up in a hurry.

"It's one of the most unforgiving leagues in the country," Ferry said. "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."

Even senior forward Ovie Soko, the Dukes' rock all season (17.2 points, 7.9 rebounds per game), has gone into a tailspin. Soko has shot a combined 7 for 30 (.233) and scored declining point totals of 12, 10 and 7 in the current three-game losing streak.

Soko made seven free throws but missed all five shots from the floor against the Rams, the first time he has been held without a field goal since Dec. 3, 2011 when he was at UAB.

"He's a good player," Smart said. "We've played against him before when he was at UAB. He's having as good of a season as any forward in our conference, statistically. We fouled him too much, but to keep him from making a field goal over the course of the game was big."

Starting guard Micah Mason missed all four shots from 3-point range against VCU and was held scoreless for the first time this season. He hasn't scored in double digits in the past five games.

The silver lining with the starters' struggles is that they have forced freshmen to step up. Freshman forward L.G. Gill matched season highs with seven points and four assists against the Rams. Freshman guard Desmond Ridenour added eight points and six assists.

"Ridenour and Gill had a great first half," Ferry said. "They were aggressive. They played hard.

"As our freshmen get better, we'll get better."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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