NASHVILLE, Tenn.—With three seasoned ball handlers, the Blue Devils entered the year hoping to limit turnovers in critical situations.
But in its first formidable test of the season, the giveaways that have plagued Duke the past few years showed up once again.
The Blue Devils fell 77-73 to Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium Sunday afternoon after their late comeback came up short. Duke had a chance to win the game tied 71-71 with a minute left in the game, but a combination of turnovers from sophomore Kyra Lambert and redshirt junior Rebecca Greenwell along with the Blue Devils’ inability to corral defensive boards late sealed their fate.
Although Greenwell and Lexie Brown combined for 38 points to lead Duke, the Blue Devils shot just 2-of-17 from 3-point range and had 19 giveaways that led to 25 Vanderbilt points. Every Duke starter had at least two turnovers, negating the team’s 48-30 edge in points in the paint.
“We can’t turn the ball over, and guard rebounding is going to be really key,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We need our guards at seven, eight, nine rebounds a game. Those are the things we are going to control and we need to control.”
Duke (4-1) played from behind for much of the game, with Vanderbilt using its balanced attack to keep the Blue Devil defense on its heels. Led by Christa Reed’s 19 points and three 3-pointers, the Commodores (3-1) attacked the paint to get Duke in foul trouble and crashed the glass even when their shots were off the mark.
Vanderbilt had five players in double figures and used 18 offensive rebounds to take control. The Commodores also benefitted from a raucous home crowd that had an obvious impact on Duke’s possessions.
“This was an environment that I think we needed—it was an NCAA championship environment, an ACC championship-type environment,” Brown said. “I’m glad we were able to play in an environment like this so early in the season just to see what it was going to be like.”
Although the Blue Devils had an edge inside, foul trouble put forwards Leaonna Odom and Oderah Chidom on the bench in the game’s critical moments. The duo combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Even with the frontcourt tandem limited and Brown and Greenwell shooting just 2-of-14 combined from long range, the backcourt stars found success driving to the basket, bringing Duke within a few possessions late in the third quarter to give the team a chance.
After the Commodores opened up a 10-point edge with 5:08 left in the third quarter, Duke fought back. Greenwell scored seven quick points during a key stretch late in the period, and Brown knocked down the game-tying free throws midway through the fourth quarter to knot the score at 64.
But despite the Blue Devils’ success attacking off the dribble, Vanderbilt always seemed to have an answer.
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“I just wanted to keep attacking. I know on film we saw that they were not the best perimeter defenders so our goal today was to get by them and get to the lane. Their help-side defense was awesome, considering I had two charges,” Brown said. “But I need my three ball to fall. If I had hit one or two of those [3-pointers], it would’ve been a different game.”
Duke forward Erin Mathias scored down low to give the Blue Devils a 66-64 lead with 3:28 left in the game—their first lead since the first quarter—but Reed came back with a 3-pointer less than a minute later to erase her team’s last deficit of the game.
The last few minutes were filled with free throws and fouls on both ends before the Blue Devils’ final turnovers ended their comeback hopes.
“Give all credit to Vanderbilt—they outplayed us, they out-fought us. They got the ball a lot more times than we did, especially in a rebounding situation,” McCallie said. “It’s a great lesson for Vanderbilt because they rebounded well and it went well for them, and it’s also a great lesson for us because we did not rebound well and we did not get key stops—that cost us.”
Duke will return to action Tuesday at home against Old Dominion looking to clean up its defensive rebounding and take care of the ball following its first setback of 2016-17.