It all came down to the final seconds Sunday afternoon for the Blue Devils.
South Carolina junior guard Tiffany Mitchell hit a crucial shot from behind the arc with 19 seconds left in the game cut Duke's lead to one point. Blue Devil freshman Azura Stevens inbounded the ball to redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell, and it looked like the Blue Devils had secured the upset, with the Gamecocks needing to foul Greenwell, a 92 percent free throw shooter.
But No. 1 South Carolina pressured hard and junior guard Khadijah Sessions stripped the ball out of Greenwell’s hands. The Gamecocks immediately called a time out.
“I looked up and I thought I was going to throw it ahead to [Elizabeth Williams],” Greenwell said. “But then two people trapped me. I should have called the timeout.”
South Carolina inbounded the ball to Mitchell with 10.9 seconds left in the game. Mitchell charged into the paint and tossed up a layup, which rattled off of the rim and into the hands of A’Ja Wilson—the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2014. The freshman scored through the traffic with ease and put the Gamecocks up by one with just two seconds remaining.
Senior guard Ka’lia Johnson flung the ball from well beyond halfcourt in a last-ditch attempt, but to little avail. The Blue Devils would fall to South Carolina 51-50.
“This felt very much like an NCAA game,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I was really proud of our team’s effort and our fight. A lot of people are probably going to make a big deal about the end of the game. I’ll make a big deal about how we started the [second half].”
Duke began the second half leading the Gamecocks 21-17, but it did not come out with the same aggressive mentality of the first 20 minutes. South Carolina went on a seven-point run to gain the lead for the first time in the contest. All seven points were the result of turnovers.
The Blue Devils would ultimately regain the lead with 7:27 remaining thanks to a 3-pointer from freshman guard Sierra Calhoun. The lead would change a few more times before the game’s end, but ultimately McCallie pointed toward the sluggish start to the second half as the cause of Duke’s downfall.
“At the beginning of the second half, they went on a big 7-0 run, and that was uncalled for,” McCallie said. “We did not come out with the right defensive intensity. We did a great job coming back and taking the lead. We did a great job in many areas, but we have got to become a 40 minute defensive team. We’re not quite there yet.”
Duke has lost three consecutive games for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Perhaps now is the right time to identify and repair the issues the Blue Devils are facing. Although the 7-0 run to start the second half certainly contributed to the loss, facts are facts—the Blue Devils have lost their last three games on late runs by opposing teams. Then-No. 7 Texas A&M outscored Duke 33-14 in the final 11 minutes of their contest Nov. 30. Likewise, the Blue Devils fell to No. 12 Nebraska Dec. 3, scoring just 12 points in the game's final 11:54.
The road gets no easier for the Blue Devils, who must quickly make the late-game adjustments with a myriad of top teams ahead on the schedule. Duke continues its homestand with games against Oklahoma, UMass Lowell, and No. 13 Kentucky before heading to Storrs, Conn., Dec. 29 for a match up with the reigning national champion, No. 3 Connecticut.
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