Another injury. Another star player forced to sit on the bench—this time, Azurá Stevens. Every time a key player went down, Duke had always found a way to trudge on and survive. 

But this year is different. Stevens—the Blue Devils’ leading scorer and rebounder at 19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game—has been sidelined with a torn plantar fascia since suffering the injury Feb. 1 against No. 3 Notre Dame and has missed Duke’s last six games. Ordinarily, other role players have been able to step up in past years when a star has been put on the shelf, allowing the Blue Devils to weather season-ending knee injuries to point guard Chelsea Gray in 2013 and 2014 and a season-ending ACL tear to former floor general Alexis Jones in 2014 to remain in the upper echelon of the polls for 16 straight years.

Except this year, the injury bug has turned into an epidemic, with Blue Devils going down left and right. Throw in three transfers in the past four years—Sierra Moore to Penn State in 2012 and Kianna Holland and Sierra Calhoun to Ohio State in 2013 and 2014, respectively—and the absence of junior forward Kendall Cooper from campus this semester, and Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie is running out of players to put on the court.

With sharp-shooter Rebecca Greenwell, Oderah Chidom, Amber Henson, Crystal Primm, Angela Salvadores and Faith Suggs all laboring through injuries Sunday against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils look like a team who has just emerged from a 12-round boxing match.

“You can’t worry about what you don’t control, but I wrote the list out today, and it’s long,” McCallie said. “We’ve had very few years here where we’ve had an injury-free season. We’re looking forward to that next year—obviously, we can’t have that this year. But this is the thing: I’ve been coaching for 24 years and I’ve never, ever had the type of injuries as we’ve had this year.”

During the course of Sunday’s 64-59 loss to the Yellow Jackets—a loss that put Duke squarely on the precipice of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994—six of the nine available Blue Devils either grabbed at a body part in pain or hobbled off the court due to injury. In a short time span to start the second half, three different Duke players had to be helped to the sidelines, and the Blue Devils eventually ran out of gas down the stretch.

Already with a limited bench due to Stevens’ foot injury—the 6-foot-6 forward is listed as “day-to-day” but has missed three weeks of action—redshirt freshman Lynée Belton’s season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus and Haley Gorecki’s season-ending hip injury sustained in early January, there was not much McCallie could do as the carousel of injured Duke players paraded to and from the scorer’s table.

The players themselves could only look on as their teammates fought to win their final regular-season home game. Suggs prayed from the bench as Salvadores made two free throws to cut Duke’s deficit to three points late in the game. Most of the Blue Devils who needed assistance Sunday were able to return, but Suggs took an elbow to the head and stayed on the sideline for the rest of the game.

“It’s nerve-racking. Obviously we’re already down players before, so we really can’t have anybody going out, so every time anyone goes down on the floor, or somebody knocks into somebody, or what happened with Faith [Sunday], you never hope anything bad happens,” Gorecki said. “For me and Azurá [on the bench], we always flip out like ‘Please don’t get hurt—we really can’t have that happening right now.’”

McCallie has tried to balance her rotation as best as she can, but with mismatched lineups due to the availability of key players, the Blue Devils have had to cobble together lineups of players who have not had much playing experience together. In past years, McCallie could mitigate the losses of Gray and Jones with the veteran core of Tricia Liston, Haley Peters, Richa Jackson, Elizabeth Williams and others, then watched Stevens shoulder the load when Williams missed three games with a foot injury early last season. But with the onus now primarily falling on Greenwell and Chidom—who are both dealing with ailments of their own—and a freshman-heavy roster, it has been tough sledding for the Blue Devils in ACC play.

Duke heads into its regular-season finale at North Carolina having dropped four of its past five games and struggling to score the ball. The Blue Devils have topped 60 points just twice without Stevens, and though their defense has performed admirably, they have desperately missed her inside presence on the offensive end.

“I think Duke is a really talented team. It’s unfortunate with the amount of injuries they’ve had,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said Sunday. “You don’t wish that on anybody.”

Many of Duke’s veteran players—namely Henson, Chidom and Greenwell—have all had portions of their time in Durham wiped away due to injury, and have tried to draw on their experiences to help the Blue Devils rebound for the future. With such a young team, there is reason for optimism looking ahead to next season, when McCallie will have both Maryland transfer Lexie Brown and incoming freshman Leaonna Odom at her disposal.

But Duke has not quit on this season, and the leaders are taking it upon themselves to improve heading into Sunday’s key game in Chapel Hill.

“As a veteran player, I need to be able to pick up the slack while other players are out. I need to do what needs to be done. Just being able to take more control of the game,” Greenwell said. “Whether it’s scoring, rebounding or just being in the right place…and being there for every game.”