After a brief hiatus, Duke’s defense appears to be back performing at a high level again.
No. 3 Duke knocked off another ranked opponent Thursday night, defeating No. 14 N.C. State 83-70. After a disappointing stretch in which they allowed 89 points to No. 17 North Carolina, 88 to No. 2 Notre Dame, and 75 to an unranked Miami squad, the Blue Devils have bounced back to hold the Wolfpack and No. 7 Maryland to an average of 66.5 points per contest.
“It was a great game,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It was exactly what we needed. We need a lot more wins like this.”
Duke (24-3, 11-2 in the ACC) racked up the defensive intensity right from the outset, closing out on perimeter shooters and forcing the Wolfpack to miss 10 of their first 13 shots overall, as well as eight of their first nine from beyond the arc. N.C. State (22-5, 9-4) was never able to get into a rhythm offensively and seemed stymied by the Blue Devils combination of pressure on the perimeter and a strong inside presence. The Wolfpack shot 27.8 percent in the first half—they are shooting better than 46 percent for the year—and managed just eight points in the paint in the opening period. Junior Elizabeth Williams set the tone early with a couple of monster blocks, letting the Wolfpack know that the paint would not be an area where they could score easily.
Faced with an imposing Wolfpack frontcourt—starters Markeisha Gatling and Kody Burke both stand well taller than six feet and average more than 15 points per game—the Blue Devils knew they were facing a tough test. Although Gatling and Burke both enjoyed very productive nights—the duo combined for 46 points, including a career-high 30 for Burke—Duke was able to limit the success of their teammates and force them to carry the offense on their own. The rest of the starting lineup contributed just nine points and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman—N.C. State’s best 3-point shooter who has hit 77 treys on the season—was held without a field goal in the first half.
“I think our defense in the first half, honestly, was fantastic,” McCallie said. “We held them to 27 points, everybody was a part of it, we held them to 28 percent shooting. It was a team effort because Elizabeth [Williams] was working super hard on [Markeisha Gatling] and so was Haley [Peters]. Everybody really had to really take care of business there.”
The defense contributed to the Blue Devil’s success on the offense end of the floor as well. Duke took advantage of 15 Wolfpack turnovers and converted them into 24 points on the other end. The Blue Devils love to create offense with their defense by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, where few teams can compete with them. They executed that gameplan well in the first half and went into the locker room with a 13-point lead, but allowed the Wolfpack to slow the game down as the lead dwindled all the way down to four in the second half.
“[N.C. State] really did a good job of trying to hold on to the ball [in the second half],” McCallie said. “For us, we need to push the pace and we need to be consistent with it, which is harder to do as the game goes on.”
The Wolfpack refused to go down easily and brought the score back to 70-66 with fewer than four minutes left to play. But the defense stepped up yet again for the Blue Devils, coming up with two key steals by Elizabeth Williams and Richa Jackson that led to points and put the game out of reach.
“I think we just refocused,” senior guard Tricia Liston said. “When it got to a point where they caught back up, we started getting stops on the defensive end and locating their shooters.”
The defense disappeared for parts of the second half, evidence that despite its quality performance, there is room to become even more dominant. With the rematch against Notre Dame looming this Sunday, Duke must refind its strong defense for a shot at revenge.