For a team as talented as Duke, early nonconference games are typically a walk in the park. But as the Blue Devils learned Sunday, nothing is guaranteed, and Duke will enter its home opener with plenty left to prove. 

After grinding out a surprisingly close win against Grand Canyon in their season opener, the No. 12 Blue Devils will host High Point Thursday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium looking to get off to a clean start to the season at home. High Point, which returns four starters from a team that finished third in the Big South last year, is coming home to North Carolina following a close loss at Ohio Sunday. 

“Especially early, we’re just focusing on us. Don’t get me wrong, [assistant coach Sam Miller]’s going to do the scouting report, and we’re going to remind them of players we want to shut down, but my sole focus right now is our team, and getting things better,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Our defense is better, our offense is better. I put in a few more plays. I’m just really trying to build our team right now and then just take the opportunity to compete and see what happens.”

In their season opener, the Blue Devils (1-0) showed off many of their strengths, particularly a balanced attack on offense that saw five players finish in double figures. However, the Antelopes also exposed some of the weaknesses that the team will look to address as it continues to find its groove early in the season. 

The Duke bench struggled to produce much at all against Grand Canyon, a concern for McCallie and the Blue Devils as they look ahead to early top-25 matchups against No. 18 Oregon State and No. 8 Ohio State in the coming weeks. Bego Faz Davalos had four of Duke’s five bench points, as the Blue Devils struggled to put Grand Canyon away for much of the game. 

“[The rotation] is up to the bench. It’s up to people to be productive and find their role and really perform it, McCallie said. “I have a lot of confidence in the bench. We had some great balance with our first group, [but] not enough production from people off of the bench. Hopefully we’ll learn to stir the pot a little bit and get more from people.”

The Antelopes also demonstrated a possible antidote to the Blue Devils’ superb athleticism and transition game: holding the ball until the end of the shot clock. As the game slowed down, Duke struggled to gain any large advantage against a team it beat 90-47 in Durham a year ago. 

When the game did get going at a faster clip, the Blue Devils excelled, outscoring the Antelopes 10-4 on fast breaks. However, the patient offensive approach that Grand Canyon took will no doubt be copied by future opponents who cannot match Duke’s athleticism. 

“There are some very disciplined teams offensively, and then there are some others that [are not], but people try to do what they can to win,” McCallie said. “A lot of people cannot run with us, but if they’re going to slow it down, and if we’re going to rush a little bit, [be] impatient a little bit, then that’s going to play in their favor. So, High Point [does] some running, but I’m sure they’ll take their time.”

Although High Point (1-1) fell to Ohio in its second game of the season after blowing out N.C. Wesleyan in its season opener, if the Blue Devils’ struggles against Grand Canyon prove anything, they should not take any opponents lightly. The Panthers shot 50.0 percent from beyond the arc in their loss Sunday, led by Camryn Brown and Emma Bockrath, who finished with 17 points apiece on a combined 7-of-13 clip from the 3-point line. 

For Duke, shutting down High Point’s potent shooting threats will help the team gain useful experience before its schedule picks up heading into conference play. The Blue Devils will need to rely on freshman Mikayla Boykin to develop into a solid two-way point guard—though she has already proven her offensive skills, her defensive game could stand to improve, especially since one of Duke’s top defenders, junior point guard Kyra Lambert, is still sidelined with an ACL injury. 

Offensively, McCallie hopes the Blue Devils will take better care of the ball against the Panthers after committing 15 turnovers against Grand Canyon. Although Sunday was an improvement on Duke’s 22 turnover performance in its exhibition against Alaska Anchorage the week before, there is more work to be done to reach McCallie’s goal of 12 or fewer giveaways per game. But above all else, McCallie hopes her team can play a consistent, disciplined 40 minutes on both ends.

“Like anything else at this level, people make assumptions all the time. ‘Oh you’re going to kill that team, you’re so much better.’ I can’t stand that,” McCallie said. “You’ve got to play the game. And the only way a game is easy is if you make it easy. You show up and make it easy.”

Ben Leonard contributed reporting.