Duquesne coach Jim Ferry joined a few media members for a brief roundtable Monday afternoon at Palumbo Center. The 10th-seeded Dukes will fly out Tuesday to Brooklyn, where they wait to meet No. 7 seed Richmond Thursday afternoon.
Here's the bulk of our conversation ...
How are you feeling going into the A-10 tourney?
"I feel good about our team. I've said it all along: it's a resilient group of guys. We haven't had a bad practice all year. Even in our ups and our downs, these guys have come out every single day. I said at the start of the year that with all these news guys we're trying to blend together that we're going to be better at the end of the year. And we're playing really good basketball right now. I know we're only 2-2 over our last four games, but considering who we played and the types of games we had, we're playing really good basketball right now. That's our focus over the next two days of practice is to continue to get better and hopefully peak as we get into tournament time — I know it's a coaches' cliché, but anybody that has seen us understands what I'm talking about. We're clicking right now. Guys understand exactly what their roles are and how to play off each other. We're defending significantly better, with better purpose, with a better sense of urgency. We're rebounding the basketball with everybody in our league right now, with the highest-level teams. When we do that, offensively we can click, and offensively we're hard to match up to."
How much does it help a young team's confidence to go into the tourney coming off the George Mason win?
"It helps a help. That goes back to the resiliency and mental toughness of this group. We had two stretches — devastating back-to-back losses and then we go on the road and beat the No. 10 team in the country, then we come back and can keep it going and play a great UMass team and, again, have a chance to win with 25 seconds to go. Devastating again. To bounce back on the road and play as well as we did at George Mason — and in a big game, because that game dictated whether we were going to finish 10th in a great league or we were going to be in the play-in game. I give our kids credit; they understand what's going on right now. They see themselves getting better, but they understand where we're at and how good this league is, so we have to play a sense of urgency every night."
Think Richmond might overlook you?
"I don't know, because they're struggling a little bit right now. They've lost the last four, so I don't think they've overlooking anybody. Chris Mooney is a great coach, he's not going to let them overlook anybody, and it's playoff time — I don't think anybody overlooks anybody. It's the start of a new season. We're locked in. We played this whole crazy Atlantic 10, which is one of the best conferences in the country, to figure out now who plays each other in the playoffs. There's a lot of preparation that goes in right now, a lot of focus. Everybody has played each other at least once, so you can tweak some things. I think it's going to be a high-level basketball game."
What do you have to do different vs. Richmond this time?
"We have to play with more of a sense of urgency defensively. I thought we were a little concerned with their Princeton offense — the back-cuts, the intricacies — and our guys were thinking too much instead of playing. We let them get off early. They made a bunch of threes early, which really set the tone for the game. We got caught on our heels. We have to come out with a better sense of urgency. Obviously, [Kendall] Anthony is such a dynamic basketball player that we've got to be locked in on him. We've got to pick him up early in transition. We've got to make sure that we are on top of them on everything we do. That's going to help with the preparation over the next couple days."
You've got Micah Mason and Ovie Soko, but how much is it incumbent upon others to pick up what's left?
"It's very important because the way we play, with spacing and ball screens, we have the ability to have five guys on the floor that can score. We have to just make those shots. When we do that, we become very, very difficult to guard. We'll score in the 80s if L.G. [Gill] has a good night or either Jeremiah or Jerry Jones has a good night. You need that third or fourth scorer. When those guys do, we've won those games. It's when we don't get that extra scoring from the wing or L.G. isn't that extra guy that can score that we get limited in our scoring. We just had the last couple games; hopefully we can continue to keep that going."
Micah and Ovie said Richmond "beat us up." Have you been stressing the physical nature of the game?
"It wasn't as much physicalness in that game. It was just that they came in here with more of a sense of urgency, played way faster than we did, beat us to all 50/50s. They were very comfortable. A little physical, but I don't think it was the physical part. They beat us up in all aspects of the game is more of the right statement. We cannot allow that to happen, and we haven't allowed that to happen, actually, since that game. We've tightened our ship up a little bit and played better. We've been dominating 50/50s. We've been rebounding on offense and defense. It's still going to come down to, listen, it's tournament basketball — defending and rebounding. If you defend and rebound, you're going to give yourself a chance to win in a conference tournament. That's what it's about."
A bit of a homecoming for you, going back to Brooklyn. Looking forward to that?
"Yeah. We've got to stay away from the distractions. It's a great opportunity for our guys. We're locked in. We're pretty focused right now, myself and my staff. Yeah, it'll be great to go back to New York and see some people, but we've got to take care of business inside the lines right now. That's what we've got to focus on."
Has Richmond played there? [Yes] I was looking for the Ferry-court advantage there?
"No, no. [laughs] Maybe if we were playing at LIU, maybe there would be an advantage. We didn't lose many games there the last couple games."
Will you have family and friends there?
"Yes, yes. Absolutely. There will be a lot of my childhood friends, and a lot of family, and a lot of LIU supporters as well that have reached out and are looking forward to coming. Duquesne is going to have a pretty good showing at that game Thursday night, so that'll be great for our kids."
Do you like the new format where everybody goes to the tournament?
"Absolutely. We're too big of a conference not to. When you look at it, we're going to get six teams into the NCAA tournament. When you look at the Big East, ACC, the Big Ten, everybody is in their tournaments. We were shortcutting ourselves last year by not. We're that big of a conference, we're that good of a conference, we're a national conference. Everybody belongs in because, hey man, there are some really good teams in this league. Someone could win this tournament that no one is really expecting to do it because everybody is so close. We've beaten each other up. This Atlantic 10 is so good. We all went at it, all close games. It's a great conference, and i think we're really going to be able to showcase our conference. In Brooklyn, you've got the Big East right down the road, battling, which we've proven to be a better league than the Big East this year. We're going to be right down the road in Brooklyn, on a great stage, so we'll get to showcase our conference. I think that's great."