By Will Graves
PITTSBURGH – First-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry keeps looking for signs his players are buying into his rebounding-centric, defensive-first system.
Consider the search over.
Jeremiah Jones scored 16 points and Derrick Colter added 12 points and seven assists and the Dukes rallied past West Virginia 60-56 on Tuesday night.
Duquesne (6-4) trailed by 13 at the half but Ferry stressed to his roster dotted with newcomers not to abandon the gameplan the coaching staff put together, one predicated on getting stops at one end before worrying about the offense later.
“We told `em we’re not going to hit a 13-point shot to start the second half,” Ferry said. “We’re going to have to grind this out. It really came down to us defending the way we’re supposed to defend.”
Having the Mountaineers go ice cold helped. West Virginia (4-4) shot just 28 percent (9 of 32) in the second half while losing to the Dukes for the first time since 2003.
Juwan Staten led the Mountaineers with 13 points and Gary Browne and Matt Humphrey added 10 points each, but West Virginia saw its three-game winning streak end during a miserable 20 minutes in which it couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm of any variety.
“It’s my fault and I’ll fix it,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I’m the one that’s supposed to coach `em. I’m the one that recruited `em.”
The loss marred a homecoming of sorts for former Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, who was let go last spring following a power struggle within the program that led to a number of high-profile players transferring.
Jones admitted it was “weird” seeing Everhart on the visiting bench at Consol Energy Center but that “it’s a business.”
The Dukes were certainly all business on the glass. Despite giving away size at nearly every position, Duquesne outrebounded the Mountaineers 43-39 and outscored West Virginia in the paint 36-20.
“We got drilled,” Huggins said.
It’s the way Ferry won games while leading LIU-Brooklyn to consecutive Northeast Conference titles in 2010 and 2011. It’s the way he expects the Dukes – picked to finish last in the Atlantic 10 this season – to play if they want to become one of the better mid-major programs in the country.
Those days are still a ways off, but Duquesne displayed some tenacity in the second half behind freshmen Jones and Colter.
The duo scored the Dukes’ last 15 points to cap a rally that made up for in effectiveness what it lacked in speed. Duquesne kept chipping away until Jones hit a traditional three-point play that put the Dukes up 50-49.
The teams traded baskets for a couple of minutes before a jumper by Colter with 2:02 left put the Dukes up to stay. Colter added a difficult reverse layup on the next trip to put Duquesne ahead 59-53.
West Virginia’s best chance came in the final seconds. Humphrey hit a 3 to get within 59-56 and Duquesne’s Sean Johnson missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Humphrey, however, missed a long 3-pointer and Browne was fouled trying to go for the rebound with 11 seconds remaining.
Browne missed the first free throw, then intentionally missed the second. The ball, however, didn’t hit the rim, giving possession to Duquesne. Colter was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and made one free throw to clinch it.
The Dukes erupted off the bench in celebration after getting a breakthrough win following a difficult first month of the season that included losses to No. 15 Georgetown and cross-town rival Pittsburgh in the annual City Game.
Ferry stressed those games were necessary to help his program develop some toughness. The Dukes showed it against a school known for it.
Huggins took responsibility for the poor showing but also took his players to task for a lack of commitment, pointing out that former stars like Joe Alexander would stay after practice every day to work on things, while some of his current players will stay after a day or two then “think it’s fixed.”
At the moment, it’s not, even if West Virginia appeared to have things in control early, building a 25-10 lead. The Mountaineers clamped down on Duquesne and made it difficult for the Dukes to get into any kind of offense.
It looked easy. Huggins thinks maybe it was.
“The truth of the matter now is we got a false sense of security up 15 and we took some bad shots,” he said. “We were horrible in transition. That led to transition on their end. They got back in the game quicker.”
Quick enough to dominate the last 10 minutes and give Ferry’s first season a welcome boost.
“It builds a lot of confidence for us,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting now and play the way we played today.”