The reasons for Duquesne’s prolonged February losing streak and the way it has unfolded have been wide-ranging and change on an almost game-to-game basis.
Sometimes, as it was against Dayton and St. Bonaventure, it was unraveling late against a better team in a trying road environment. On other occasions, like it was against Massachusetts, it’s because of a defense that morphs into a sieve in the game’s final minutes. The twists and turns vary, but they’ve produced a similar plot, one in which the Dukes hang close, sometimes against superior competition, only to fall short.
Their seventh-consecutive loss – an 83-67 defeat against Richmond Saturday night at the Palumbo Center – presented a new and demoralizing wrinkle that perhaps signifies the nadir of a free fall that has upended their season.
Duquesne struggled to defend the Spiders (15-13, 7-9 Atlantic 10) throughout the game, allowing an already potent offensive team to shoot 52.7 percent and make half of its 22 3-pointers. Even when it was able to get close early in the second half, extended offensive droughts ended most any hope of a comeback.
A team that could take solace in its competitiveness during its worst stretch of the season no longer had even that, at least for one night.
“They executed significantly better than we did,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “Their frontcourt totally outplayed our frontcourt. For the first time all year, I felt like as a team we just couldn’t guard.”
With the loss, the Dukes (15-14, 5-11) finished February winless, a far cry from the 15-7 record they carried into it. It just the second time in the past 10 seasons they’ve finished a whole month without a win. For the Spiders, it was their 18th victory in 19 A-10 regular season games against Duquesne.
The Dukes led for only 2:44 and were consistently overmatched and out-maneuvered by a disappointing Richmond team that led them in the conference standings by only one game entering the night. When they weren’t burying 3s, the Spiders utilized their skilled and versatile big men, who helped them shoot 54.5 percent inside the arc. Prior to tonight, Duquesne’s opponents were making just 42 percent of their 2-pointers.
Even when it drew close, its offense betrayed it. A 3 from Derrick Colter got the Dukes within four points with 14 minutes remaining, but after that, they went the next 5:31 without making a shot, a span in which Richmond’s lead swelled to 13. Colter snapped that drought with another 3, but it would be another 4:09 before another Duquesne player besides him made a shot against an effective matchup zone defense.
“There are slips and different pockets to get open shots, but it’s always contested and it’s always a different look,” guard Micah Mason said of Richmond. “It’s a team that plays a different way than anyone we really play.”
Colter finished with 20 points while Mason had 15 points and seven assists. Sophomore Eric James added 16 points.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Duquesne leads 13th-place George Mason by one game. Though it owns a head-to-head tie-breaker against the Patriots, finishing among the bottom four teams in the A-10 would require it to play in the preliminary round of the conference tournament in March.
It’s a situation the Dukes hope to avoid as they try to recapture something from a season that has quickly devolved.
“It’s frustrating,” Mason said. “We didn’t think our senior year would end like this. But there’s still basketball to play and we can make a run in the tournament because we’re a good team. We’ve proven we can play with anyone and lose to anyone.”