Miniscule mistakes in basketball rarely affect the course of a game, but constantly making silly, unnecessary errors can add up and cost a team a win. Luckily for Duke, it was playing Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils were able to use their talent and size to fend off the Demon Deacons 55-44—cellar dwellers in the ACC—but poor shooting and bad decision-making highlighted a lot of the mistakes that have plagued this young team throughout the season thus far.
Head coach Joanne P. McCallie and some of the more prominent veterans were able to focus the team away from their struggles on the offensive end and on the glass, but Duke again showed it's a great challenge of playing a full 40 minute game, something McCallie has stressed all year.
The struggles started with simply putting the ball in the basket, as their 36 percent shooting was the team’s fourth-worst mark in a game this season. Junior Haley Gorecki posted one of her worst shooting performances as a collegiate player, scoring nine points on just 2-of-12 shooting from the field and 0-of-5 beyond the arc.
“There are nights like that,” McCallie stressed. “This is a long season, we’re at the end of February. We just came off a nice little road trip from South Bend and two away games in the same weekend, so I’m really proud of the team. That’s hard business to cover, and you just have to stay focused in the moment, stay positive, and keep playing.”
Another area of concern came on the defensive glass, where poor box outs allowed Wake Forest to stay in the game with just a seven-point deficit. The Blue Devils allowed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, a trend that’s been present all year with Duke only winning the offensive rebound battle three times in conference play. Sophomore Jade Williams and freshman Onome Akinbode-James were able to step up with rebounds in the second half and limit Wake to just five second chances the rest of the way, however, to help give the visitors a sizable lead.
“We definitely knew we had to put a body on them and just box out a lot harder,” Williams said of what changed in the second half. “When a shot goes up we had to find people instead of watching the ball.”
Despite gaining an edge, it looked like the Duke might let the Demon Deacons slip back into the game with a nine-point lead with a minute left. Williams and Akinbode-James both missed a pair of free throws on back to back possessions, and after some much needed free throws from Gorecki to push the lead to double digits, the young Blue Devils foolishly forced an unwarranted missed layup off of a turnover with 21 seconds to play. Luckily for McCallie and her squad, Wake was unable to get any offense going in response.
“I liked the people that were on the line, everybody can make free throws,” McCallie said. “The good news was we had made enough stops. We controlled the game enough to not let it be a one possession game. We’re very good free throw shooters. We can shoot them, and we need to get that done in the game.”
These problems are nothing new for Duke, mistakes you would expect from any young team. The Blue Devils rank 186th in the country in rebounding margin and just 281st in free throw percentage, hindering them with late game situations and much needed stops.
Although the season may be winding to a close with a postseason berth nearly faded out of reach, it’s the little things that this Duke team can work on in its last few games, aiming to take a team next year returning most of its major contributors back to the Big Dance.
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