Yet again, Duquesne was unable to hold on to a sizable second-half lead and for the third-consecutive game, it lost while doing so. The Dukes fell to George Washington, 81-74, Wednesday night at the Palumbo Center. The loss was their fourth in a row, a season high.
As for how the game itself went…
Turning point: This one was a little more prolonged than usual because that’s how more methodical, efficient teams like George Washington operate. Duquesne led, 45-32, with about 18 minutes remaining after Micah Mason did what he did for much of the game’s first 30 minutes – blowing by Patricio Garino, one of the A-10’s top defensive players, for a smooth finger-roll in traffic.
From that point, though, the Colonials switched to a triangle-and-two defense for large stretches, one that applied constant pressure on Mason and Derrick Colter and limited the space in which they could move. By putting the proverbial clamps on the only two Dukes to finish in double figures, George Washington made a decisive move. Over the next 12:31, Duquesne scored just 12 points while its opponent poured in 31. With just five minutes left, GW led by six and even when the Dukes threatened, like when they were down three with 1:30 left, their opponent responded, like they did when Kevin Larsen responded with a 3 to double that lead (just the 12th of his four-year career).
Game ball: It can’t be anyone other than Mason. The Highlands grad was sublime much of the night, finishing with a game-high 26 points while making 10 of his 16 shots and six of his nine 3s. What continues to impress me the most with him is how well-rounded and far-reaching his offensive game has become. As I mentioned earlier, he largely had his way whenever Garino was guarding him, which is no small feat. He made quick, decisive drives to the basket, which he finished with some deft touch.
Though he’s been one for much of his college career, Mason has evolved into much more than just an outside shooter this season. Even with his 3-point percentage at a career low – he’s shooting 41.8 percent this season – he’s as good and dangerous of an offensive player as he has been in his career.
What it means: Duquesne’s beginning to fall into a precarious pattern at a point in the season when it can least afford to. Its past three losses haven’t been identical, but they are permeated by the same theme – being unable to not only maintain a lead, but not completely lose it in the second half of a game it could have easily won.
The problem is, largely, a defensive one. George Washington shot 52 percent in the second half after hitting just 38.7 percent of its field goals in the first. It was even deadlier from 3, making six of its nine second-half treys. In their past three losses – tonight’s, against UMass and at Dayton – the Dukes allowed their opponents to shoot a combined 54.5 percent after the first half (48 of 88). From beyond the arc, it has been even uglier the past two games, as the Minutemen and Colonials shot a combined 58.3 percent from deep.
I’ve never bought into the notion that some teams have a “clutch gene” or “know how to win close” because data has shown us those results are more a product of luck than anything. A bounce that maybe went your way during better times doesn’t the following year. Though it’s a different sport, it’s the kind of thing that can explain how Eli Manning led two last-minute, Super Bowl-winning drives only to see his Giants team implode in drastic fashion several times in 2015. He didn’t lose a certain skill; it’s more likely he just didn’t have it to begin with.
While teams don’t necessarily have those traits, it’s becoming clearer that Duquesne struggles in these type of games against better teams. It’s a puzzling trend given the Dukes’ relative experience, especially in the backcourt, but for Duquesne fans, it’s a development that has to be equally troubling.
What’s next: A game Saturday at Rhode Island. KenPom gives the Rams an 81 percent chance of winning, with a projected final score of 78-69. Given URI’s recent struggles – losing four of its past six – and its injuries, I think the Dukes have better odds than that.
Quotable: “When we’re out there, we’re just trying to make plays to get wins. We’re not really thinking about being up and them coming back. That’s what has been happening. Right now, we just don’t have that edge to pull out wins.” – Micah Mason
“We’re tired of losing right now. We had a history of not pulling out games the past couple of years. I thought we fixed that this year. We just lost four really close games. We’re not a bad team and we know that.” - Mason
“We’re not coming out with the same intensity on defense in the second half. I’m not really sure why, but we have to fix it if we want to win games.” – Mason
“They go to that defense, it takes away Micah and DC, and I felt we kind of froze a little bit. We’ve worked on this several times. We’ve actually faced teams that have done this and we’ve shredded them. It’s a little disappointing to see us play this poorly offensively during that stretch.” – Jim Ferry on GW’s second-half defensive switch
“Some of it is our length at the guard position. I think some of it is being away from our bench, where we can be aggressive with our voices and help them out. I also thought in this game, it was our offensive inadequacy. It led to transition baskets.” – Ferry on Duquesne’s second-half lapses on defense
“It’s a program that hasn’t won in years. We’re trying to build it to win. This is a part of it. You have to learn how to win. We’ve done a better job of it earlier this season and we’ve been playing pretty good teams, but you’ve got to win these games, especially at home.” – Ferry
“It’s fragile. Micah and I were talking about it before the game. They [GW] had lost two in a row and they were fragile. You win one game and all of a sudden, your confidence comes back. Yes, we have to keep grinding and figure it out, but we’ve got to defend better. That’s the bottom line.” – Ferry on the team’s mental state now compared to two weeks ago