For many college basketball players, success early in a game can determine their performance in the rest of the contest, with a made basket or hustle play foreshadowing other impact moments.
Although many might expect that to be the case for role players, the theory also applies to Duke sharpshooter Rebecca Greenwell—whose first 3-pointer of a game can often predict the rest of her performance.
The differences in Greenwell's efforts when she makes her first triple of a game and when she misses are stark. The preseason All-ACC performer averages about 4.5 more points per game—more than one 3-pointer—shoots 13.3 percent better from the field and 6.8 percent better from 3-point range when she makes her first 3-point attempt of the contest in ACC play.
Inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, Greenwell’s early 3-pointers can get the crowd going and subsequently flummox opposing teams—Duke finished the regular season 16-0 in Durham—and can quiet down rowdy road audiences as well.
But when she misses?
It is not necessarily the kiss of death, but it can be something pretty close as Duke’s second-leading scorer generally warps into an inefficient shell of her usual self, struggling to keep defenses from focusing on star guard Lexie Brown.
With a suffocating matchup zone that leads the ACC in scoring defense, the Blue Devils generally do not need an influx of scoring to grab victories. But against some of the better teams in the ACC—which has seven teams ranked in the top 25—Duke has needed every point it can get, having already played four games in which the two team were separated by four points or less.
The best way to ensure that the Blue Devils get off to a strong start offensively is with Greenwell’s first 3-point attempt of the night. Although she seems to have started to right the ship with better play against Syracuse and Virginia after missing her first triple—she scored 39 points combined in the two contests—the redshirt junior has not registered more than 14 points in any other conference games after missing her shot from beyond the arc.
Even when Greenwell went through a mid-season shooting slump in which she made at least 50 percent of her shots in only one of seven games, she was still recognizably better after converting on her initial shot from long range.
Her shooting clips are not the only aspect of her game affected by her initial 3-pointer—her rebounding and assist totals are as well. Although the differences are much smaller, Greenwell’s rebound and assist totals suffer to the tune of a half rebound and slightly more than an assist per game, which are pretty substantial differences considering Greenwell is currently averaging team-high 6.3 boards in addition to 2.2 assists per contest in conference play.
To clarify, the smaller disparities are due to the sheer number of boards and assists she registers per game in comparison to her point output—the Owensboro, Ky., native averages 14.3 points per game in the ACC.
Especially with postseason play steadily approaching, Duke will need everything it can get out of Greenwell, who has emerged as one of the best secondary scoring options in the nation after struggling at times last season when forced to play point guard instead of on the wings, where she can use her superior conditioning to wear out defenders running baseline to baseline in hopes of getting an open look at the basket.
Although Brown has been phenomenal for almost the entire season, Duke’s leading scorer can only contribute so much for the Blue Devils, who rely on Greenwell’s floor spacing abilities to run a lot of set offensive plays that either use her as a decoy or aim to get her the ball in advantageous opportunities.
When Brown and Greenwell are firing on all cylinders—as they did in Duke’s 83-70 victory against then-No.16 Miami Sunday, a game in which Greenwell drained her first shot from deep—the Blue Devils are nearly impossible to stop. If they can get Greenwell to make her first 3-point attempt of the contest, chances are Duke is in for quite the postseason run, something nobody could have predicted after such a tumultuous offseason.
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