It was senior day, and the stage was set for Ovie Soko.
Duquesne's senior forward had swiftly and systematically dismantled visiting Dayton Saturday at Consol Energy Center, yet, somehow, the Dukes let their double-digit second-half lead slip away, and Soko was asked to play hero again.
With 17.8 seconds left and Duquesne trailing by two, Soko toed the free-throw line and let his first attempt fly. The shot was true for his 26th point of the game. But Soko's second shot, the one to tie the score, clanged off the iron and ricocheted away.
The Flyers whipped the ball down the court, and guard Jordan Sibert dunked it, putting the exclamation point on Dayton's improbable, come-from-behind 57-54 Atlantic 10 Conference victory.
"I had a chance to bring our team back level, and I didn't do what seniors are supposed to do," Soko said, dejected. "Those guys [Dayton] made plays, and I didn't."
Soko, one of the Dukes' two seniors, had far and away his most efficient game this season, hitting 9 of 13 shots, including all three 3-point attempts. Soko alone made nearly as many field goals as the rest of his teammates combined (10).
Dayton entered Saturday having won five games in a row, the second-longest active streak in the Atlantic 10, but the red-hot Flyers were ice-cold early against the Dukes, making just one of their first nine shots.
Duquesne (11-15, 3-10) sprinted out to a 17-2 lead, shot 51 percent in the first half and went into halftime with a 39-35 advantage. But things went terribly awry after the break. The Dukes scored just 15 second-half points and hit 4 of 27 shot attempts.
"A tale of two halves," Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. "I really don't have an answer."
Duquesne converted 10 3-pointers, including one from freshman guard Desmond Ridenour at the halftime buzzer, but had only two in the second half.
The issue wasn't shot selection, either.
"We were taking the same shots as the first half," Soko said. "They just weren't falling. They started going the other way."
Duquesne endured seven- and eight-minute field-goal droughts in the second half, one to start the half and one to finish it.
"It's basketball -- you have to score," Ferry said. "This isn't soccer."
Dayton (19-8, 7-5) opened the second half on an 11-4 scoring run before Dukes sophomore guard Micah Mason came off a screen to drill a 3-pointer and push the lead back to 10.
But the Dukes didn't score a single field goal in the final eight minutes. Their 12-point lead was pecked away at slowly at first, and it vanished altogether at the 3:29 mark when Sibert drilled a 3-pointer, tying the score at 51-51.
On the next possession, Sibert gave Dayton its first lead with a two-handed dunk. He finished with 18 points.
The Flyers entered the final minute leading, 55-53. After Soko missed a contested layup with 40 seconds remaining, Dayton was whistled for a five-second inbounds violation.
Soko took the ball to the rim again and was fouled, but his miss of the second free throw allowed the Flyers to escape.
"We're excited," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "But we're also very fortunate."
NOTE -- Brian Anselmino, a former Ringgold High School standout who was a captain of the 1989-90 Duquesne team, died Saturday afternoon in a four-car accident on I-70 in South Strabane. He was 45.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published February 22, 2014 4:22 PM