Final thoughts: A gut punch

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on . 


There is a particular agony in the distinction between “shock” and “scare” in college basketball.

That distinction hinged on the final minute tonight, when, at 70 points apiece, Duquesne and No. 19 Saint Louis had fought to the finish, trading leads 13 times in the second half alone.

Jeremiah Jones had set the stage by sinking the first of two free throws at 1:12 to knot the score. But as it stood entering that final minute, the true engines of the effort had been Ovie Soko, Dominique McKoy and Micah Mason.

Mason was five of six from 3-point range and had 15 points and 6 assists to no turnovers. McKoy, a day after his 21st birthday, had 15 points and 7 rebounds. Soko had dumped in 13 second-half points for a game-high 18 points and 7 rebounds.

“Their two big kids really at times had their way against us,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “You want to pinch in but No. 22 (Mason) is over there shooting threes, so you can’t really do that, either.”

Mason had given Duquesne a 69-68 lead with a pure, cold-blooded triple at 2:16. Billiken guard Jordair Jett answered with a jumper.

Soko turned the ball over, and then he played savior. With Jett streaking down-court with the ball and only Derrick Colter left to stop him, Soko played it perfectly. He gestured for Colter to not go for the block, so Colter stayed low. When Jett rose up for the layup, Soko swatted the ball away.

Jones grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. He tied the game. And that brought us to the final minute. Jones was back on the line. He sank both, pulling the Dukes to within a mere 57 seconds from stunning the 19th-ranked team in the country.

The Billikens never flinched. “They didn’t get rattled,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “Not at all.” They came out of a timeout, and Jett, seeing that his first option, big man Rob Loe, was covered, dished to the backup option, a kick-out 3-pointer to Austin McBroom. McBroom drilled it from the wing, and it was 73-72. “To me it was just a normal shot,” McBroom said.

Duquesne got its looks. Soko went inside, got contact but no foul, and McKoy missed the tip-in. Loe missed his free throw on the other end, and McKoy had another chance.

With Mason covered and it still a one-point game, McKoy kept it and went to the rim with 15 seconds left. His layup glanced off the rim. After two made Saint Louis free throws, everyone knew the game was in Mason’s hands. He caught the ball in the corner, but his potential game-tying 3-point attempt was an air ball, a shot he rushed and also well contested by Loe.

Ballgame. Saint Louis survived a scare. That’s how it’ll look in the box score; that’s how it’ll be explained on ESPN; that’s how the Billikens might even remember it. This one will haunt the Dukes, though, and a few players in particular. Because in the furious finish was a flurry of hero’s moments. The only player who claimed one, in the end, was the man named McBroom.

Here's the full P-G game story.

Saint Louis entered Wednesday’s game allowing the sixth-fewest points (57.3) of any team in college basketball.

Duquesne picked that defense apart like no other team has. The offense was fast, efficient and unselfish.

The Dukes became the first team to eclipse the 70-point plateau against the Billikens this season and was also the first team to shoot 50 percent or better from the floor. “They were hitting everything form the beginning of the game until about the end,” McBroom said.

Duquesne lead, 36-28, late in the first half. That eight point Dukes lead tied the Billikens’ largest deficit in their past 15 games.

Duquesne had assists on its first eight buckets and finished with 17 assists on 24 buckets. Colter led with 7, and Mason had 6.

But in some ways it felt like an “Anything you can do I can do better” scenario.

Saint Louis hit 10 3-pointers (oh, that’s new) and had 20 assists to just 9 turnovers. (Duquesne had 13 turnovers.) And they outscored the Dukes, 33-13, in points off the bench.

In truth, I thought the Dukes were going to crumble in the second half. They were set up to, right? They’d allowed six straight points to close the first half, clinging to a two-point halftime lead. And then Loe opened the second half with a 3-pointer.

Goodbye, lead. Hello, blowout.


But that’s the thing about these cardiac Dukes — the thing that is the reason my inbox fills every week with complaints and cries for consistency — they have the ability to keep up with and surprise any team, but they’re just as likely to fall apart for a 10-minute stretch and get routed.

Ferry fielded a lot of questions after the game about, basically, what happened late, and he answered it in a few different ways. First, he’s not looking at silver linings just because his team kept up with one of American’s finest.

"I expected to win this game,” he said. “I thought if we played the right way that we'd be in the situation with 5 minutes to go to win the basketball game. And we were, so I'm disappointed that we didn't finish the job.

“Being able to win a game like this puts you over the hump. I've seen it when building a program or reestablishing a program. You can get a win like this, and it's always something the kids can go back to or draw back on.”

He said, in a few more words, that teams have to learn to win a game like that — have to learn how to finish, how to capitalize on the hero’s moments. Duquesne didn’t fall on its face late, but it didn’t finish, either.

If Duquesne was in that same game again tomorrow, I don’t think Soko and McKoy (twice) and Mason all miss again. Or, shoot, maybe Jones hits all four free throws in the last 1:12.

“I don’t think our confidence shook today,” Ferry said, “not one bit.” For me, it comes down to something McBroom said. Maybe he was just trying to say the right thing or act composed, but he said: “This was one of those games where we just had to keep fighting and eventually it was going to fall into our hands.”

The Billikens are allowed the think that way. When you’re 18-2 and you’re established, you know it’s just a matter of time before things click. You know how to win. You know how to finish.

There’s true confidence in that quote, I think, and it was justified.

I asked Ferry whether he finds that players typically have an easier or harder time refocusing on the next game after a close, near-upset victory like this.

“I think it’s harder,” he said. “Listen, this was a great opportunity for us. … We’ve got to recover quickly.”

Soko said: “You can’t linger on it too long.” 

Because someone’s going to make a big stink about Colter and the 10-second violation.

Yes, I cannot recall the last time I saw someone whistled for a 10-second violation when getting absolutely no pressure in the backcourt. And, yes, it kick-started a six-point Saint Louis run to end the half.

The play ultimately had no bearing on the outcome of the game, and Colter had a strong game, in my mind. He had 5 points and 7 assists to 3 turnovers. More than anything right now, his job is as floor general and to keep the tempo up in transition. He played that role well.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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