When the idea of Duquesne playing in the College Basketball Invitational first arose, Jim Ferry called Derrick Colter, his stellar senior who had been with him his entire time at the school.
The Dukes had sputtered at the end of the season — losing nine of their final 10 games, including an unsightly 15-point loss to La Salle in the Atlantic 10 tournament — but there was a chance to start anew and, for Colter, a chance to continue his career.
“Listen, this is great,” Ferry said to Colter of the CBI. “You’re not going out like that.”
Colter and his team took full advantage of the opportunity, washing away that lingering, noxious scent from the season’s final stretch in a record-setting 120-112 victory against Nebraska Omaha Wednesday night in the first round of the CBI at Palumbo Center.
Exactly one week after committing eight turnovers and missing 11 of his 17 shots in what could have been his final college game, Colter finished with team highs in points (28, a career high), assists (nine) and, surprisingly for the 5-foot-11 guard, rebounds (six).
The 120 points were the most Duquesne has scored in Ferry’s four seasons and were a CBI single-game team record, a welcome burst for a team that failed to crack the 80-point barrier in its seven previous games. The win was the program’s fourth postseason victory in the past 47 years and it guaranteed it of a non-losing season for just the eighth time in the past 34 years.
For Colter, the win, and the tournament itself, did something more than just shatter records and set marks.
“It gave me a second chance,” he said. “I didn’t want to end my career and season in Brooklyn like we did. I wanted to keep playing.”
The Dukes (17-16) were aggressive from the opening tip, exhibiting the kind of speed, rhythm and effectiveness that was often absent in their previous 10 games. Plays and sets that once appeared forced suddenly seemed almost effortless.
In a matchup of two of the 20 fastest-paced teams in Division I, they raced out to a 31-13 lead in the opening nine minutes and led by 19 at halftime, having forced the Mavericks (18-14) to miss 28 of their 38 shots.
As it has been for much of the past two months, things wouldn’t continue to unfold quite as easily in the second half. Omaha, which scored 80 points in the second half alone, made eight of its first 11 3-pointers of the half to get within three with seven minutes remaining. Just when a collapse appeared imminent, though, Duquesne regained its footing, going on a 15-4 run to effectively put the game away.
The 232 combined points set a program single-game record.
With the victory, they will play at Morehead State at 1 p.m. Monday in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
“To go in four years from ground zero to a winning record and for these guys to be rewarded for it, it’s great,” Ferry said.
“It’s a national tournament, a good tournament. The teams in this tournament are no joke. It’s an opportunity and they’ve embraced it.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG