The injury bug refuses to leave the Duke women’s basketball team alone.
With five minutes left in Sunday’s game, a Florida State player slid into the legs of unsuspecting Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie near the scorers’ table. McCallie, shaken, tried to smile and wave off the trainer, though her pain was evident. Just hours earlier, it was announced that true point guard Mikayla Boykin had yet again been doomed to a season on the bench due to an ACL tear—this time, her right knee was the culprit.
So after merely eight games back in uniform, a street-clothed Boykin got a close-up view of McCallie’s injury and another fruitless second-half comeback that resulted in the Blue Devils’ 66-62 loss to Florida State Sunday at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Unfortunately for McCallie’s squad, still seeking its first ACC victory, the finish of Sunday’s game did not go to plan.
“It’s so disappointing, coming off what this team has done, what this team is doing relative to what we have to handle,” McCallie told GoDuke.com. “God bless Mikayla for what she’s going through. Bless this team. This team fights, fights and fights some more. I told them, ‘We’ll go to the gates of hell before we stop attacking.’”
In the first half, it seemed the Blue Devils were indeed approaching the gates of hell. Dysfunction reigned in Boykin’s absence. Without either of its point guards—Kyra Lambert is similarly hobbled—Duke (8-9, 0-5 in the ACC) turned to its two other playmakers, redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki and junior forward Leaonna Odom, to direct the offense. The Blue Devils’ early strategy of a two-man game with Gorecki and Odom achieved minimal success, as they found themselves down by 13 points at the intermission. The Seminoles (16-2, 4-1) constantly disrupted passing lanes, forcing 19 turnovers. Only Gorecki, Odom and sophomore forward Jade Williams contributed points for the Blue Devils Sunday. Gorecki poured in 25 points, Odom scored 20, and Williams added 17.
“The quality of play by [Odom, Williams and Gorecki] was outstanding,” McCallie said. “It’s more than outstanding, considering the situation in the last 48 hours.”
However, that fact seemed reflective of the limitations of Duke’s offense without a point guard facilitator. The Blue Devils could not locate spot-up shooter Miela Goodchild, who was held scoreless for the first time this season. They were also outrebounded 36-27 while allowing the Seminoles to snatch up 16 offensive boards.
Only a combination of a red-hot Gorecki and Florida State’s inability to hit a three kept Duke in the game. Just one of the Seminoles’ 18 attempts from beyond the arc struck nylon, which led to them abandoning the deep ball late in the game. Meanwhile, Gorecki displayed the full gamut of her abilities, recording 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals. All this came on efficient 9-for-18 shooting.
“If [Odom] were going through, and they were following [Odom] for the clearout, then the left or right sides were open, so I just took advantage of that,” Gorecki told GoDuke.com.
Florida State’s forward Kiah Gillespie scored 15 first-half points to put McCallie’s team in a deep hole. But the Blue Devils stormed back in the third quarter, with Gorecki’s layup at the end of the period slimming the deficit to just six. A monster block from freshman forward Onome Akinbode-James with six minutes left in the game seemed to intensify the fire under them. Gorecki proceeded to bring Duke to within four points three times, each time with a drive to the hoop. An and-one layup from Odom then brought the score to 60-62. However, two Duke turnovers and a wide open layup for Nicki Ekhomu widened the gap back to four, and Florida State made all their crunch-time free throws to close out the game.
“You don’t want to be in the hole, there’s no question about that,” McCallie said. “This team has come back from 17 points down, and now this team has come back from 13 points down. That’s what we’ll keep fighting for: to get better, to learn from the experience and play 40 full minutes without these lapses in the first half.”
It took Gorecki’s dazzling performance and many Seminole long-range misfires to even get close to an unranked Florida State team. Simply put, the Blue Devils were outplayed in transition and on the glass, but neither of those aspects rely on skill alone—a concerning thought. Duke faces Wake Forest 7 p.m. Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. McCallie will have to figure out some way to move the basketball without Boykin or Lambert before then; if she can’t, a conference win may elude the Blue Devils for a good while longer.
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