RALEIGH—A determined Duke team would not let N.C. State take the victory without a battle Thursday.
For much of the game, the Blue Devils went toe-to-toe with a top-10 Wolfpack team. Duke boldly responded to several offensive sparks by the hosts with impressive runs of its own. However, poor rebounding in the fourth quarter gave the strong N.C. State team too many second and third looks at the basket and the Blue Devils were out of time to climb back into the contest.
“The rebounding stats tell the story. You just can’t give second shots like we did,” said head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “We’ve got to get get bodies on people, play contact and play the game with such tenacity. I think we did that for much of the game but to close out the game, you got to have control of the ball.”
Despite its inability to finish, Duke dazzled with gritty play to respond to N.C. State’s offensive punches. An early 12-2 deficit and sea of red Wolfpack fans didn’t dampen the Blue Devils. Mikayla Boykin spearheaded a 10-0 run—the first of several big offensive responses by Duke—with her 3-point sharpshooting. N.C. State guard Aislinn Konig started the call-and-response play from downtown, firing off two triples in the first two minutes of the quarter.
Several minutes later, Mikayla Boykin responded confidently with two made triples in 52 seconds. Konig answered Boykin’s hot hand with another triple. But, Boykin again responded with another 3-pointer a mere 12 seconds later and the Blue Devils regained the lead at 15-13 to close out the first quarter.
In the second, the Wolfpack pulled ahead to a 25-20 lead but Duke wouldn’t back down, responding with a 9-2 run of its own. Miela Goodchild’s 3-point jumper in transition put the Blue Devils up 29-27 before a N.C. State bucket tied the score at 29-29 going into halftime.
As the narrative arc of the night replayed itself, the Wolfpack jumped out in front of Duke with a 9-0 run to start the second half. But, despite dismal 1-for-12 shooting at the beginning of the quarter, the Blue Devils returned N.C. State's jab with a mighty left hook of their own.
Haley Gorecki hit her stride, delivering 10 of her 19 points in the third quarter. In 1:31 of playing time, Gorecki put Duke on a 8-0 run, sinking two pairs of free throws, a layup in transition and capped the run with a smooth jumper. Boykin’s jumper with three seconds to play in the third quarter cut the deficit to 43-41 and gave the Blue Devils a legitimate chance to spoil the Wolfpack’s perfect season thus far.
Unfortunately for Duke, an eight-minute scoring drought gave N.C. State enough breathing room to secure a 13-point lead 59-46 with 1:28 to play. On the night, the Wolfpack won the rebounding battle 47-31 and converted several second and third chance looks around the bucket.
“Rebounding is under-talked about but it’s a big deal,” said McCallie. “We’ve got to do a better job of pursuing the ball, getting the ball and having more possessions where we have defense play longer.”
Particularly against a team of N.C. State’s caliber, preventing easy looks at the basket will be key for the Blue Devils moving forward.
But, Duke’s gritty play against the Wolfpack's unbeaten squad demonstrates its potential.
“We’re still learning how to play with each other, how to spread the floor, how to be more effective offensively,” McCallie explained.
The Blue Devils' strong showing in their ACC opener demonstrates a lot of promise for a young Duke team as it hosts No. 3 Louisville back at Cameron Indoor Sunday at 2 p.m.
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