After the Blue Devils got off to their best start since 2013-14, their 10-game winning streak came to a disappointing end with a 24-point loss Sunday at No. 6 Florida State.
With two rivalry games next on the docket for Duke, the Blue Devils will look to put the blowout loss behind them and start another streak anew.
Coming off its humbling loss at Florida State, No. 12 Duke will look to get back on track against rivals North Carolina and No. 23 N.C. State. The Blue Devils will host the Tar Heels Thursday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium before making the short trip to Raleigh Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. to take on the Wolfpack at Reynolds Coliseum.
For Duke, the back-to-back matchups with their Triangle rivals offer the chance to make offensive adjustments coming off its lowest-scoring game of the year. Despite ranking eighth nationally in field goal percentage at 48.2, the Blue Devils have not reached the 70-point mark in five of their last six games, and will now look to get their offense in gear to stay near the top of the conference standings.
“Obviously at Florida State we didn’t give a full 40 [minutes],” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We really kept our defensive poise, but we lost our offensive poise. That’s something you just can’t do. We’ve got to play together as a team and find each other in good spots. We’re excited to play Thursday, to rebound better, focus better and attack more as a team.”
In their loss to the Seminoles, veteran guards Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell—the Blue Devils' scoring leaders averaging more than 17 points per game apiece—combined for just 10 points.
Florida State repeatedly pressured the backcourt duo with aggressive defense, forcing seven turnovers between the two on its way to causing 20 Duke miscues for the whole contest. With their two stars flustered by the pressure and unable to break through, the other Blue Devils struggled to create their own offense inside, allowing the Seminoles to gradually pull away in the second half.
“When people play aggressive on you, you have to slow down and you have to execute, and we didn’t do that,” McCallie said. “We’ve been trying to play the game from the outside in too much, so people are coming out on us, and switching onto Lexie and Becca, or doubling.”
Duke (14-2, 2-1 in the ACC) will find no respite from aggressive defense this week—North Carolina gives up just 63.5 points per game, and the Wolfpack own the 16th-best scoring defense in the nation, yielding only 54.4 per contest.
One of the key problems that plagued the Blue Devils’ offense Sunday was an inability to score from the perimeter without their two best players rolling—for the first time this season, Duke did not hit a single 3-pointer.
To avoid an upset at home against the Tar Heels (12-4, 1-2), the Blue Devils need to regain their scoring touch from the outside against a team that defends the perimeter well and has held opponents to just a 27.8 3-point percentage this year.
On the defensive end, Duke will have their hands full trying to contain North Carolina's explosive guards, especially sophomore Stephanie Watts.
The Wesley Chapel, N.C., native is averaging 19.3 points this season, good for second in the ACC, along with 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game as well. She is an especially prolific scorer from the perimeter, and her 36.4 3-point percentage from beyond the arc leads the team. In a game earlier this season, Watts canned an ACC-record 10 3-pointers.
“You have to really slow them down, and really locate [Watts] at any time. I’ve never seen a kid shoot a three faster than [Watts],” McCallie said. “They’re a four-guard team, and they rely on the three-ball tremendously. We’re going to extend and attack in any defense we play in.”
After the Tobacco Road showdown Thursday night, the Blue Devils travel to take on N.C. State, which has already recorded one of the biggest upsets in ACC play with a 70-62 upset win at home against then-No. 2 Notre Dame. The Wolfpack (13-4, 3-1) lack a single high-scoring player, as forward Chelsea Nelson leads the team with just 11.3 points per game, but compensate with a balanced offense that averages 72.9 points per game.
N.C. State backed up its upset against the Fighting Irish with a road win at then-No. 6 Florida State, the team that just dismantled Duke.
Nelson and fellow forward Jennifer Mathurin will provide a different look against the Blue Devils than North Carolina, which, like many other teams has shifted toward more four-guard lineups. Duke, like N.C. State, however, continues to rely on its post players and frontcourt to generate points in the paint and protect the rim.
“A lot of guards, less post, that is definitely a trend," McCallie said. “I just don’t think there are as many post players out there to begin with, so definitely that four-guard look is a trend. Whether you’re a guard or post, you have to get paint points. The ball has to be moved, preferably inside out.”
Although the Blue Devils might have to play contrasting styles to start a new winning streak and are preparing for North Carolina earlier in the season than normal, Duke knows it can expect two hard-fought, in-state rivalry games as ACC play continues ramping up.
“It is a little bit different. Usually they do come later,” McCallie said. “It’s still a neighborhood battle.”
Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.