A month ago, after Richmond whacked Duquesne, 75-58, at Palumbo Center, the Spiders would have been the last team the Dukes hoped to see in a one-or-done game in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
But Richmond will enter the postseason having lost its final four regular-season games while Duquesne finished on the rise. The Dukes have won three of six and took the other three to the wire with a chance to win in each in the final 30 seconds.
Tonight, the 10th-seeded Dukes will get their shot at revenge against the seventh-seeded Spiders in a first-round matchup at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“We’re fighting for a championship,” sophomore guard Micah Mason said. “That’s our main goal, obviously. Right now, we think we can play with anybody.”
It’s a homecoming for second-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry, a Long Island native who spent 10 seasons at LIU Brooklyn and took the Blackbirds to the NCAA tournament in 2011 and 2012. The Dukes practiced this week at LIU Brooklyn’s gym, and Ferry said he will have plenty of family and friends tonight in the stands.
This will be Duquesne’s first tournament appearance under Ferry. They were one of four teams left out of the round-robin a year ago before the Atlantic 10 expanded the tournament to include all 13 teams.
“We’re too big of a conference not to [expand],” Ferry said. “When you look at it, we’re going to get six teams into the NCAA tournament. When you look at the Big East, ACC, the Big Ten, everybody is in their tournaments. We were short-cutting ourselves last year by not [having that].”
Ferry said the “resilient” Dukes are “really clicking right now,” but it’ll take a far different effort to defeat Richmond. The Spiders jumped to a 17-3 lead Feb. 12 en route to an easy victory.
“We have to play with more of a sense of urgency defensively,” Ferry said. “I thought we were a little concerned with their Princeton offense — the back-cuts, the intricacies — and our guys were thinking too much instead of playing.”
Success in tournament play, Ferry said, hinges on strong defense and rebounding.
Senior forward Ovie Soko earned all-Atlantic 10 third-team honors Monday after leading the conference in scoring (18.2 points per game) and finishing sixth in rebounding (7.8 rebounds per game). Soko is savoring his final guaranteed game in a Duquesne uniform.
“This is really the time of year that’s the most fun for me, to be honest,” Soko said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that it could be coming to an end, but that’s just part of the journey. This is a chapter that’s coming to a close soon, but that’s why you just have to leave it all out there.”
Matchup: Duquesne (13-16) vs. Richmond (18-13), Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, 6:30 p.m. today, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
TV, Radio, Internet: NBCSN, WPGB-FM (104.7), GoDuquesne.com.
Duquesne: Was one of only 14 Division I teams with better winning percentage on the road (.538) than at home (.400) in regular season. … Hit 36 of 81 3-point attempts (.444) in past four games. … Sophomore G Micah Mason averaged 17.6 points per game in past three games.
Richmond: Lost past four games. … … Leading scorer Cedrick Lindsay (18.3 ppg) missed final 10 games of regular season and is out for postseason. … G Kendall Anthony scored 20 points against Duquesne Feb. 12 and averages 16 per game.
Hidden stat: Duquesne has won just two first-round Atlantic 10 tournament games since 1995. In 2004, the fifth-seeded Dukes defeated fourth-seeded Massachusetts. In 2009, seventh-seeded Duquesne beat the 10th-seeded Minutemen en route to a heartbreaking title-game defeat against fourth-seeded Temple.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.