Dukes let lead slip away in final seconds, lose to Saint Louis in A-10 tourney
After looking at his players' tear-stained faces in a quiet locker room, only Duquesne coach Jim Ferry could put the team's latest loss in its proper perspective.
Leading by 18 with 15 minutes, 20 seconds to play, Duquesne (10-22) couldn't handle good fortune and lost to Saint Louis, 72-71, Wednesday night in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at PPG Paints Arena.
“I don't think I've ever been involved in a more devastating loss than what just transpired,” said Ferry, who's been a college basketball coach since 1990.
“They really left everything they had on the court.”
The loss was the sixth in a row for Duquesne. The margin of defeat in the last four totaled eight points.
Duquesne kept striking back while Saint Louis (12-20) scored 40 points in the second half after trailing 42-32 at halftime.
Still, the Dukes, who have won only one game in this tournament since a run to the championship in 2009, looked to have the Billikens under control with 24 seconds left. Freshman Mike Lewis II, who led all scorers with 22 points, hit two foul shots to give the Dukes a 71-66 lead.
But a series of mistakes surfaced for the young Dukes, who start two freshmen and two sophomores.
Saint Louis' Mike Crawford hit two layups sandwiched around a Lewis turnover, one of 11 by the Dukes in the second half. The lead was suddenly one.
Then, senior Emile Blackman missed two free throws with nine seconds left and Saint Louis' Davell Roby tipped in a missed shot with one second left to win it. It was the Billikens' only lead of the game.
“If that isn't March Madness, I don't know what is,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. Ford said this victory was more satisfying than when he played on a Kentucky team that rallied to win from a 31-point deficit.
“We had a bunch of All-Americans on that team,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys (at Saint Louis) who are just trying to figure to figure it out.”
Saint Louis, the 11th seed in the tournament, will play No. 6 George Washington at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. The Billikens have won three of their past four games.
Ferry, a New York native, said the defeat hurt no more just because the Dukes are the host school for this tournament.
“It doesn't matter if it was at Tillary Street Park in Brooklyn,” he said. “Here, Mars, it doesn't matter.”
Four Duquesne players scored 12 of more points, including freshman Isiaha Mike and sophomore Tarin Smith with 14 each and Blackman with 12.
Yet the Dukes were outscored, 35-16, in the final 15 minutes.
“If we make our free throws in the last two games, we win,” Ferry said. “If we do a better job of rebounding, we win. If we don't turn the ball over, we win. It's an issue of execution.
“With a young group, you have to working, you have to keep hounding them.
“Lots of freshmen and sophomores trying to make plays. That's tough.”
Duquesne has lost 12 games by seven points or less to finish in last place in the A-10. But those are developments Ferry believes will make his players stronger.
“We know what (recruits) we have coming in next year,” he said. “These guys (on the current team) are getting older. This isn't going to happen again. We can get right back to the middle of the pack in this league.”