VILLANOVA, Pa.—Against a stout Villanova defense, the Blue Devils struggled to generate any offensive consistency in an upset loss.

No. 11 Duke dropped its first game of the season against the Wildcats Sunday afternoon at Jake Nevin Field House 64-55 after Villanova pulled away in the third quarter by outscoring the Blue Devils 26-8. The Wildcats shut down the Blue Devils’ most potent players in graduate students Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown, forcing Duke to get the ball inside to generate offensive movement. Greenwell finished with just nine points, a season low, and shot a dismal 28.5 percent from the floor, and Brown sat for much of Villanova’s decisive third-quarter run with four fouls. 

“We were just too rushed offensively. We had some good looks,” Greenwell said. “We were too rushed and we needed to slow down. Those are shots we get every day in practice and in games and we just didn’t convert.”

After the Blue Devils took a 28-22 lead into the halftime locker room, things changed quickly at the start of the third quarter—Villanova found its shooting groove. 

The Wildcats stormed past Duke, using a 17-2 run that lasted much of the third quarter to pull away and take a 48-36 lead at the end of the period, their largest of the game. That deficit proved too much for the Blue Devils to overcome, as their shooting woes continued into the fourth quarter and the Wildcats continued to cash in from beyond the arc. 

“We defended the 3-point line so much better in the first half than the second half,” Brown said. “In the second half, they came out on fire, but as a team I think we have to grow up and be more mature and bounce back from things like that. I think the game is a game of runs, and we just didn’t handle their run very well.”

Sophomore Kelly Jekot led Villanova with 23 points, including 17 in the second half. Senior Alex Louin also propelled the Wildcats with 17 points, all of those coming after intermission. Villanova attempted a season-high 40 3-pointers, connecting on 10 of their 20 tries in the second half.

“We did whatever we could defensively, and still they got the same shots,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “You know why—because they moved the ball, we couldn’t force them to dribble and they did a great job hitting their shots. It comes down to defensive leadership—the five people on the floor really have to communicate to get it done. And we didn’t. That’s the third quarter.... Until we get vocal leadership and people really into the defense for 40 minutes, we’re going to struggle.”

The Wildcats (3-0) showed a tendency for tenacious defense in their first two games—limiting opponents to just 53 and 42 points. After putting up more than 70 points in both of their contests this season, the Blue Devils (2-1) were unusually cold, finishing just 37.5 percent from the floor and 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. 

Looking to speed up the pace of play against a Villanova team known to use the entire shot clock on offense, Duke found success early on with a full-court press, forcing multiple turnovers. But the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on most of their opportunities, and the Wildcats settled down to finish with just eight giveaways. 

Were it not for Villanova’s similarly dismal first-half offensive performance—the Wildcats shot just 7-for-30 from the field—Duke could have trailed early. Instead, the Blue Devils took a 28-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. 

With Greenwell contained for much of the game and Brown picking up her third and fourth fouls early in the third quarter, Duke’s lack of depth proved costly, with its bench logging only eight points. In addition, highly-touted freshman starter Mikayla Boykin finished with only three points despite being on the floor for close to 30 minutes. 

Turnovers again plagued the Blue Devils, who forced the ball inside looking to take advantage of their height advantage. Sophomore Leaonna Odom finished with 13 points and 12 boards, and the Blue Devils outrebounded Villanova 44-26, but they did not spread the floor well enough and connect with consistency from beyond the arc. 

“Again, turnovers—that’s a huge key for us,” McCallie said. “If it’s an up-and-down run-and-gun game, turnovers don’t become as important, but they do in these kinds of games.”

The Blue Devils will be on the road again for a matchup with Old Dominion on Wednesday before returning to Cameron Indoor Stadium for their first top-25 matchup this season Nov. 25 against No. 18 Oregon State.