The Blue Devils suffered their worst season-opening loss since 1999 last Sunday. The 84-58 trouncing at the hands of Northwestern illustrated just how much development this young Duke team needs to compete with Division I powerhouses.

The reeling squad will attempt to redeem itself against Maine Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. This matchup is the second in a row in which Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie has history with the opponent—Northwestern was her alma mater, and McCallie coached Maine to six straight NCAA Tournament berths from 1995 to 2000. Duke and Maine’s last meeting resulted in a 30-point victory for the Blue Devils, but given Duke’s early struggles, it likely won’t be able to run up the score to the same degree. Meanwhile, the Black Bears are on their way up. Head coach Amy Vachon, who played under McCallie at Maine, led the Black Bears to their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 2003-04 season last year. Maine returns all five starters and has won both of their games this season by double digits. 

“They just play super hard,” McCallie said. “They might put up 46 three-pointers. It’s nice to have my former player be a coach there. She’s done a nice job.”

However, McCallie’s triumphant return to Maine may be tarnished by the sloppy play exhibited by her team last weekend. Duke (0-1) shot just 35 percent from the field, committed 24 turnovers and dished out only nine team assists. The Blue Devils’ three ball, which seemed like a strength in the preseason, faltered against Northwestern. They hit only 19 percent of shots from deep compared to the Wildcats’ 40 percent. 

“There was too much to just drive into two or three people, and that’s not the way to play against that kind of defense,” McCallie said. “I like the aggression, I like going after it, but you have to have a guard follow and you have to have people move. We missed probably 20 open players or more, so we went through that in film today in terms of head-up and how to move the ball.”

Duke’s youth might be partly to blame. With nine underclassmen, this year’s squad is the second-youngest in school history. However, against Northwestern, even the upperclassmen struggled. Redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki shot just 4-for-19 from the field and senior guard Faith Suggs went 1-for-5. Gorecki committed six turnovers and junior forward Leonna Odom committed eight of her own. Due to the dominance of Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown over the past three years, current upperclassmen couldn’t get the playing time needed to craft veteran players. The Blue Devils’ immaturity as a whole will surely come back to bite them throughout the season.

The play of freshman guard Rayah Craig served as a silver lining to Duke’s loss. She shot an efficient 5-for-8 from the field to total 13 points before fouling out of the game. Craig’s ball-handling ability and quickness allow her to create her own shot, an incredibly valuable resource on a team that looks shaky from the field so far. She will almost certainly be given more playing time, given she stays out of foul trouble.

“Rayah’s just a first-year, but one thing she does more than most of our kids right now is play with so much heart and energy,” McCallie said following the defeat. “She’s such a fighter and she’s a competitor. She doesn’t take things personally, she just keeps playing. The point guard position is a problem position for us, so seeing her step up as she did, that’s a very good thing.”

Maine (2-0) is led by junior guard Blanca Millan, redshirt senior guard Tanesha Sutton and junior forward Fanny Wadling. Millan scored 18 and 23 points in the Black Bears’ first and second games of the season, respectively. Millan, Sutton and Wadling typically clean up on the boards, but Duke’s height advantage won’t let that happen Thursday. Additionally, Maine has had its own shortcomings from long range, shooting just 24 percent from beyond the arc in its game against Bryant Tuesday.

In the Black Bears, the Blue Devils find a much more surmountable opponent and an opportunity to get back on track. McCallie can only hope that as players gain more experience playing with each other, they can pick up steam.