Three weeks ago, La Salle visited Palumbo Center and dumped Duquesne, 75-56, snapping a five-games Dukes winning streak. The loss sent the Dukes into a tailspin and they lost their next four games.
Now, as the Explorers (11-9, 3-3 Atlantic 10) play host to Duquesne (10-9, 2-4) in Philadelphia at 4 p.m. today, it’s the Explorers who have hit the skids, having lost their past three games against St. Bonaventure, VCU and George Washington.
Such is life in the Atlantic 10, a conference where teams beat up on each other week in and week out, said Dukes coach Jim Ferry.
“They’re not going to be the only team in the league that goes through a three-game losing streak,” Ferry said. “It happens to everybody. This league is too good. … That’s what this league does, man. It’s a monster.”
The Explorers returned four starters from a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last spring, and Ferry has no doubts they’ll be in top form.
“I don’t take any stock into whether they’re winning or losing,” Ferry said. “They are who they are. We’ve got to play the right way against them.”
The secret to the Explorers’ success three weeks ago was limiting Dukes senior forward Ovie Soko to 12 points and two rebounds and forcing him into seven turnovers.
It has been clear all season that as Soko goes, so goes Duquesne. He had scored more than 20 points in each of the five games before the loss against La Salle. In the ensuing four-game losing streak, he had point totals of 12, 10, 7 and 18 points.
Soko returned to form in the Dukes’ 83-81 victory against St. Bonaventure last Saturday, scoring 27 points, and then collecting 25 points and 8 rebounds in a 71-64 road win Wednesday against New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“We watched tape and showed him what he’d been doing differently, and he made the proper adjustments,” Ferry said. “I think the officials have been calling the fouls again like they were at the beginning of the year. That’s a huge factor.”
Soko and junior center Dominique McKoy will be tasked with slowing La Salle center Steve Zack, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting. Zack is averaging 9.6 points and 10 rebounds per game in Atlantic 10 play.
“He’s a facilitator,” Ferry said. “He’s the one who keeps their offense running. We’ve got to make him feel uncomfortable and make him make difficult plays.”
Duquesne trailed NJIT by 10 points midway through the second half Wednesday before roaring back for their 10th win this season in their final non-conference game.
“I think you learn more from winning games like that than you do from having a blowout,” Ferry said. “Going from league games to a non-league game was difficult. We came out a little bit flat.
“But we made plays to win the game, so we’ve got to give ourselves credit in that regard.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.