Duquesne coach Jim Ferry knows a victory against a ranked opponent can make a huge difference for a struggling program.
The rebuilding Dukes almost got one against No. 19 Saint Louis on Wednesday night.
Mike McCall scored 13 points, including two free throws with 13 seconds remaining, as Saint Louis avoided an upset by beating Duquesne 76-72.
"Winning a game like this puts you over the hump," Ferry said. "It's something the kids can go back and draw on. I expected to win this game. I'm disappointed we didn't finish the job. It shows we're getting better.
"We just have to take the next step."
The Dukes had several chances to put the Billikens away, but they missed four free throws in the final four minutes and a layup with 13 seconds remaining that would have given them a one-point lead. Dominique McKoy drove to the hoop and attempted a reverse layup that did not fall.
"I missed an easy one I usually make," McKoy said.
Duquesne led by eight late in the first half and then again early in the second half, but could not hold off the Billikens (18-2, 5-0 Atlantic 10), who won their 12th consecutive game and their fifth in a row over the Dukes.
But there were plenty of bright spots for the Dukes, who shot 50 percent from the field, made eight of their 15 3-point attempts and outrebounded the Billikens, who entered ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense.
"They're very aggressive, very fast," Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. "They had more transition buckets against us than most people have in three games against us."
Ovie Soko scored 18 points to lead Duquesne (8-9, 1-5). McKoy and Micah Mason each added 15.
Mason, a transfer from Drake, was 5 for 7 from 3-point range. His final attempt with 4 seconds remaining would have tied the score, but it was off the mark.
Mason paced the Dukes with nine first-half points, all on 3-pointers. The Dukes had a chance to go into halftime with a double-digit lead, but they missed their final five shots in the final three minutes of the half.
The Dukes led 36-28 and had possession with less than three minutes remaining in the half, but a 10-second call on point guard Derrick Colter allowed Saint Louis to cut the lead to five on Mike Crawford's 3-pointer on the next possession.
A basket and a free throw by Grandy Glaze cut the deficit to two at the intermission.
The Dukes went up by eight again early in the second half, but end-of-half execution proved to be their downfall again in the final 20 minutes. While Saint Louis played with calm in the waning moments the Dukes failed to come up with the winning plays.
"I thought out guys executed great all the way down to the end," Ferry said. "We had a couple of missed layups and free throws. You have to give Saint Louis credit. We were only the third to team to outrebound them and scored 70 on them and they still found a way to win. They showed great poise down the stretch."
The Dukes have lost four consecutive games since opening Atlantic 10 Conference play with a victory over Fordham, and they fell below .500 for the first time since early December. But Ferry and his players believe they will benefit by playing a ranked foe tough on their home court.
"We'll learn from it," Soko said. "It showed they had five seniors starting. Down the stretch, those extra years showed on the floor. They made plays to their credit."