The second-best scoring offense versus an impressive team defense. Strength versus strength.
Something has to give.
The Blue Devils have yet to surrender more than 65 points this season—which occurred in Duke’s 72-65 victory last Saturday against a high-powered Oregon St. attack—while Ohio State enters the contest racking up 94 points a contest and has already reached triple digits twice this season.
No. 14 Duke will welcome the eighth-ranked Buckeyes to Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m. as it continues to battle through the heart of its nonconference schedule. Although the Blue Devils enter the contest having won 19 of their last 20 games in Durham, they will be tested by NCAA 3-point record-holder Kelsey Mitchell, who leads the nation with 27.8 points per game mark.
"You can’t really guard [Mitchell] with one person regardless of what defense you’re in. It’s a team commitment to knowing where Mitchell is on the floor all the time,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She’s a player who scores a whole lot of points, shoots a whole lot [and] tries to command the game.”
Mitchell became the NCAA’s first player to reach 400 career 3-pointers at just the start of her senior season, and is converting on 46.8 of her attempts this season. But what makes Mitchell so dynamic is her ability to get to the basket as well, as she has made the second-most free throws in the nation this season while adding more than four assists per game.
In response, McCallie plans to throw a variety of defenses at the preseason All-American. After playing primarily a 2-3 zone against the Beavers, Duke showcased its full-court defense against Presbyterian, allowing just 45 points and forcing 21 turnovers.
With speedsters like starting backcourt partners Lexie Brown and Mikayla Boykin, McCallie hopes to utilize the duo to slow down Mitchell and make her life difficult on offense.
But even if Mitchell struggles, the Buckeyes (7-1) boast four other players who average at least 10 points per game. With the help of the transfer market, Ohio State has struck gold with players from Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, who all have major roles in the starting lineup. The transfer from the Blue Devils—redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun—spent just half a season in Durham, averaging 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for McCallie.
Now on the other sideline, Calhoun and transfers Linnae Harper and Stephanie Mavunga provide the second, third and fourth options with the ball. Harper, despite standing at just 5-foot-8, has grabbed more than 10 rebounds per game, and the lone forward Mavunga is tied for eighth in the nation with 12.4 boards a contest.
“The big key with them is transition defense—getting the ball and stopping them in transition, shutting down the gaps," McCallie said. "They’re a wonderful team that uses the gaps and takes a lot of shots that way."
But outside of their fearsome starting five, the Buckeyes have little depth and size, two attributes the Blue Devils hope to exploit. Mavunga is Ohio State’s only starter taller than 6-feet, and it generally uses just two other forwards—Makayla Waterman and Alexa Hart.
Although the Blue Devils (5-1) are known for their shooting prowess with graduate student sharpshooters Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, they have been able to pound the ball inside as well in nonconference play. Forward Leaonna Odom has taken a step forward in her second season, and has combined to 30 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in her last two games.
Recently, Duke has also received encouraging performances from freshmen forwards Madison Treece and Jade Williams, who combine with starting senior forward Erin Mathias to form a towering frontcourt standing at least 6-foot-4.
Greenwell—who is listed at 6-foot-1—has also displayed an ability to score down low throughout her time in Durham. She can often use her size and strength to establish position against smaller guards and shoot over them in the post.
“We’ve got to get paint points,” McCallie said. “Hopefully, there will be some areas that we can kind of exploit [down low].”
The Blue Devils can also rotate their guards throughout the game with the help of redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki’s play off the bench. After missing last season with injuries, Gorecki has started to hit her stride, and junior Faith Suggs has impressed in limited minutes as well.
“I’m also very confident in our bench, and I challenge them to play harder every day, to work harder, to play harder, to give that extra effort and to be that great energy off the bench,” McCallie said.
Duke will have to get all the contributions it can to keep up with Ohio State’s offense, which has not scored fewer than 85 points this season.
“Without question, it’s a team defensive effort,” McCallie said. “We’re all going to have to play together, we’re going to have to play off each other [and] be very connected.”
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