It took less than 10 seconds after the opening tip for Penn State guard Tim Frazier to splash a 3-pointer and effectively drain Duquesne’s hometown edge from Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night.
The rest of the way, Frazier deferred. He finished with 11 points and a career-high 13 assists as Penn State (8-3) powered past Duquesne, 68-59, before a crowd of 5,246.
"Here's the great thing about Timmy: he just wants to win,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “That's an unselfish leader who has a great understanding of what he wants out of this year. The kid truly wants to leave a legacy."
Duquesne (3-4) was uncharacteristically cold from the floor, shooting just 27 percent and connecting on just four of 23 3-point attempts.
Senior forward Ovie Soko kept the Dukes in the game by scoring a game-high 19 points and hauling in 9 rebounds despite playing just 22 minutes and fouling out with 5:37 remaining in the game. He was 12 of 14 from the free-throw line.
Soko, always his own toughest critic, admitted he made “a couple freshman mistakes” that got him in foul trouble. His final infraction was a simple reach-in in transition.
“As soon as I did it, I was just …” Soko paused to scratch his head. “I was surprised at myself. I play off emotion so much that I just got caught up and made a bad decision that affected my team.”
After the Nittany Lions opened with a 6-0 start on a pair of 3-pointers, Soko scored the Dukes’ first nine points to grab a 9-8 lead.
The first non-Soko Duquesne player to score was junior guard Tra’Vaughn White, whose five-foot floater nearly six minutes into the game gave the Dukes an 11-10 advantage — their second and final lead of the night.
Penn State held a 35-26 halftime lead, and the Nittany Lions took control out of the break during a five-minute Duquesne scoring drought.
The Dukes fought back, getting as close as 47-42 with nine minutes left, but their late comeback fell short.
The matchup was a battle of big men, as Soko and junior center Dominique McKoy (12 points, 10 assists) were hassled and hounded by Penn State’s Travis Ross (9 points, 13 rebounds) and Donovon Jack (9 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks).
The Dukes’ aggressive offensive approach — coach Jim Ferry’s signature — got them to the foul line early and often. They shot 21 of 34 from the charity stripe while the Nittany Lions had just 10 attempts.
"Duquesne is very hard to defend,” Chambers said. “They really get downhill and create the fouls. I'm going crazy out there ... but there's nothing the refs can do. They have to call it."
The Dukes’ defensive approach was to keep Frazier from penetrating the paint to dish back out for an open shot from the wing. The approach worked, by all accounts, but Frazier’s floor-general instincts worked just fine from the perimeter, as he fed the ball to the wings and to open men down low for easy buckets.
“I’ve never seen anybody who can pass like that,” fifth-year senior Penn State guard Allen Roberts said, gesturing toward Frazier, seated beside him.
For Ferry, the Dukes’ fatal flaw wasn’t their defense, which has been much maligned this season, but their offense.
"We held them to 42-percent shooting,” Ferry said, listing the positives. “We outrebound them [47-45]. We crushed them from the foul line. You've got to win a game like that.
“I never thought offensively we’d play so poorly with a group like this.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.