Duquesne center Dominique McKoy sighed, and his red eyes glanced up. He wore a haggard expression, frustrated and exhausted. He had been asked to describe that final minute and No. 19 Saint Louis’ great escape.
With 57 seconds left on the clock, Dukes sophomore Jeremiah Jones hit two free throws to put Duquesne ahead, 72-70, and whip Palumbo Center into a frenzy. But these were the Billikens, winners of 11 in a row, and guard Austin McBroom calmly answered barely 10 seconds later, drilling a 3-pointer from the wing.
In that whirlwind final minute, McKoy had gotten two chances at a potential winning basket. The first — a missed tip-in with 33 seconds remaining — was forgivable. The second left him with his head in his hands.
McKoy curled off the free-throw line and angled toward the basket, leading with his dominant hand. He had a step on his defender, he thought, but they met at the rim, and McKoy’s contested layup ricocheted away.
“I missed an easy one that I usually make,” McKoy said. “I’ve got to finish that.”
Dukes guard Micah Mason had a chance, too. He sank five of his first six 3-point attempts but air-balled a potential tying 3-pointer with sic seconds left. At the final horn, Saint Louis had scored the game’s final six points and survived a major scare, 76-72.
Four days after frittering away a four-point halftime lead and losing by 15 at VCU, Duquesne had pushed the Billikens to the brink but was forced to accept its fourth consecutive defeat.
The Billikens’ victory, their fifth in a row against the Dukes, stretched the Saint Louis winning streak to 12.
Duquesne was the first team to eclipse the 70-point mark or shoot at least 50 percent from the floor against Saint Louis this season.
“I don’t think our confidence shook,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said, “not one bit.”
Dukes senior forward Ovie Soko led all scorers with 18 points, including 13 in the second half. McKoy and Mason each added 15.
After Duquesne shrugged off an early five-point deficit, it went up, 36-28, after a Mason 3-pointer. The eight-point Duquesne lead tied the Billikens’ largest deficit in their past 15 games.
Momentum swung back toward Saint Louis as the Billikens closed the half on a six-point run to trail, 36-34, at the break.
The Dukes lead vanished nine seconds into the second half as the game turned into a back-and-forth, seesaw affair that featured 13 lead changes in the second half.
The Billikens, one of three teams to start five seniors, got help all around, including 33 points off the bench. McBroom, a sophomore, missed his first three 3-pointers of the game but hit all three in the second half, including the winner.
“It showed that they had five seniors,” Soko said. “Down the stretch, in the last couple minutes of the game, those extra years showed. To their credit, they made plays.”
Ferry wasn’t looking for any silver lining — not yet, at least.
“I expected to win this game,” he said. “I thought if we played the right way that we’d be in the situation with five minutes to go to win the basketball game. And we were, so I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish the job.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published January 22, 2014 9:13 PM