CORAL GABLES, Fla.—The bedrock of every successful basketball team is the ability to keep possession of the ball and play a clean game. When a team gives away the ball in excess and is unable to connect on a few too many shots, the balance of the game turns.

This scenario is one that has plagued the Blue Devils in their recent stretch of games, culminating in a 51-48 defeat to an unranked Miami team in their ACC opener on the road. Duke gave the ball away on countless occasions, and the scoreboard showed just that. Against a hungry Hurricane squad on New Year’s Eve, the Duke finally paid the price for its carelessness.

On the afternoon, the Blue Devils committed 22 turnovers and were led in that department by graduate student Lexie Brown, who finished with a game-high nine turnovers.

“I’ve seen double teams all season long, but Miami is the most aggressive one and even last game I saw a lot of doubling that was really aggressive,” Brown said. “I just have to get back in the gym, practice that, take care of the ball. As a team, we just have to catch passes, save plays and just be more confident in our offense.”

For much of the season, Brown has been the player of emphasis for opposing defenses, and Sunday's game was no different. But with Brown coming off two straight ACC Player of the Week selections, she became even more of a focus for the strong Hurricane defense.  The Suwanee, Ga., native entered the game as the only player in the ACC to score at least 20 points in five straight games this season.

“The defensive game plan...was phenomenal. The effort on Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell was as good as—they’ve hurt us in the past. We definitely lost twice to them last year and those two kids really beat us,” Duke alumna and Miami head coach Katie Meier said. “[Guard] Shaneese [Bailey] kept us in it in the first half. Just her defense on Lexie Brown was a thing of beauty. It was beautiful.”

Unfortunately for Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie, the turnovers have been an area of concern throughout the recent stretch of contests, which began with a 19-turnover night against Maine and continued with a 24-giveaway showing when the team took the floor against Liberty to close its nonconference slate. On the season, the Blue Devils have committed 15.4 turnovers per game in their 14 games.

It was the Blue Devils' fifth game of the season with at least 19 turnovers and the seventh time Duke has lost the turnover battle—the Hurricanes committed one fewer giveaway, finishing with 21. The Blue Devils' record in those seven games fell to 4-3, including all three of Duke’s losses.

A positive takeaway in the game was Brown’s play on the defensive end. She has continued to intercept and steal her opponents' passes and pick the pockets of her defenders, which was the case again in her final ACC opener. Brown matched a career high with eight steals to increase her average to 4.1 steals per game, which leads the ACC and ranks fifth in all of college basketball.

“That should not go unnoticed,” McCallie said. “The problem is transitioning the energy from defense to offense for Lexie, because eight steals against that team is outstanding. But then at the same time, are we knocking it down a few gears in our tempo offensively? So, that’s something to work on for sure.”

But with the team combining for 22 turnovers, the eight steals by Brown were not enough to offset the disjointed play on the offensive end. For the fourth straight game, Duke was held to fewer than 70 points, and the offense has gone stagnant at times.

In the game, Brown finished with a season-low of 10 points and classmate Rebecca Greenwell struggled in her return to the floor after missing the previous four contests. The “Splash Sisters” only connected on 5-of-20 shots from the field and 1-of-10 from long range. Both of those statistics are potential areas of improvement moving forward for the Blue Devils in order to counteract the effects of turnovers.

Entering the ACC, the Hurricanes held the conference lead in steals per game at 11.3. The aggressive defense proved too difficult to overcome. The Blue Devils were outrebounded in the game 37-35 for only the third time this season. Coupled with a season-low eight assists, Duke struggled on many fronts, including its effort, according to one Hurricane forward.

“Coming into this game, I knew energy was going to be the story of the game,” Miami senior Erykah Davenport said. “Duke’s a great team, but I never really got that fire and energy from them and I knew we had that advantage because we were fired up from the jump, so we came out with a victory."

As the Blue Devils close the books on 2017 and look ahead toward 2018, Brown and McCallie both shared their New Year’s resolutions for the team to see the goals that were set forth before the season.

“Going into the New Year, I think everything that’s happened up until now, we’re going to learn from it. But again, forget about it,” Brown said. “This is a learning experience, but we want to set off the New Year with a lot of positive energy and a lot of confidence.”

Duke spent New Year’s Eve in Durham before heading to take on an undefeated Louisville team Jan. 4. With a few days to prepare, McCallie talked about a cohesive bond among the players that needs to be re-established as a new year is born.

“I just want the team to enjoy playing off each other, finding each other and being able to have confidence in each other so everyone can slow down and look for each other in the right places on offense and feed off each other defensively, and enjoy the opportunity they have as a team because it’s special to be on a team,” McCallie said. “This team’s only together this year, so I’d like them to enjoy that.”