For two quarters, anything seemed possible for the Blue Devils. But once again, reality came crashing down in the form of Syracuse guard Kiara Lewis.
The Blue Devils kept the game close for a while but fell to another ranked team in a 64-55 loss to No. 13 Syracuse Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Lewis’ 15-point third quarter was part of a larger breakout for the Orange that ultimately led to Duke’s demise. The Orange looked vulnerable from long range in its previous two games but found its shooting stroke in the second half of Sunday’s game. While Duke forced Syracuse into taking long range shots, the Orange thrived instead of died from beyond the arc, converting on 40 percent of their treys.
"Obviously for us, it was a tough game because it did not finish the way we wanted it to finish," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I’m very proud of the team’s effort. Being in these games, being in positions to take the games, handling adversity and all those things—it’s tough."
Duke (9-10, 1-6 in the ACC) struggled to find an antidote to Syracuse’s play style early on. The Blue Devils failed to penetrate the Orange’s 2-3 zone, making them reliant on the three-pointer; half of their shots in the opening period came from beyond the arc. The Orange played sloppy and fast and owned the glass. Despite a sizable height advantage, Duke pulled down no rebounds in the first six minutes of play and was outrebounded 16-4 in the first quarter. Syracuse (16-4, 5-2) held a five-point lead after one quarter of play.
"There are just so many interesting stats that go your way, and then you always fall back to rebounding," McCallie said. "What is really frustrating about this is to see how many balls were in our hands, and then we don’t grab or rip. That’s a big step and something to improve."
Freshman guard Miela Goodchild nailed a corner three just seconds after entering into the game and made a fast break layup. Goodchild totaled 10 points on the day. Sophomore guard Jayda Adams made her second consecutive start but couldn’t match her 12-point Wake Forest performance, missing all four of her field goal attempts.
The Orange’s frantic pace did them in during the next frame, however, as the Blue Devils found their footing on both sides of the ball. A short jumper from Odom tied the game up at 20-20, and Duke took the lead for the first time midway through the second period on a jumper from Gorecki. Another Odom jumpshot and fast break layup later, the Blue Devils found themselves in the lead at 26-21 at the intermission.
Last year’s first team all-ACC guard Tiana Mangakahia headlined the Orange lineup, but Duke’s trap zone defense successfully forced the ball out of her hands. Mangakahia attempted only three field goals in the first half and scored just four points. She also recorded no assists in the half—out of character for the country’s most prolific passer last year. The Blue Devils’ volume shooter, redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki, could not be stopped, scoring 14 points and pulling down six rebounds in the first half.
"Haley’s play—playing 40 minutes and having to handle the basketball, drawing all the defense—continuing to do what she does is rather incredible," McCallie said.
It looked like much of the same to start the second half. Duke forced turnovers on the first three possessions and extended its lead to 10. The pendulum soon swung back the other way, though. The Orange converted four layups and connected on three triples to take an eight-point lead—and it didn’t stop there. The Blue Devils surrendered 19 points over four minutes. Syracuse had an impossibly good quarter, scoring 31 points—more than either team scored in the entire first half. The Orange shot 12-for-18, including 5-for-9 from deep. Guard Kiara Lewis caught fire, scoring 15 points and draining four treys. On the other side of the coin, Duke had a quarter it would soon like to forget. At the end of the period, Syracuse had a 12-point lead.
As much as the Blue Devils tried, they could not come back from the double-digit deficit in the final quarter. Duke did come within seven points several times but never came any closer.
"We were right there," Gorecki said. "I don’t know what we need to do. I think that’s what we’re figuring out right now, but obviously just keeping fighting is what we’re going to do because I know that’s what our team loves to do."
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The Blue Devils are approaching the end of their front-loaded conference schedule. Duke will seek to reverse its fortune Thursday evening at Boston College.