With much of this season not falling in favor of the Blue Devils, it’s important to grab every little accomplishment you can, especially sweeping their arch rivals.
Duke will get that chance on Sunday when they welcome North Carolina to Cameron Indoor Stadium for its regular season finale. The Blue Devils grabbed the first game in Chapel Hill handily by a score of 85-69. Duke will also recognize their two senior captains, Faith Suggs and Sofia Roma, who will make their final appearances in Cameron.
The leadership of Suggs and Roma, alongside the experience of redshirt junior Haley Gorecki and junior Leaonna Odom, is vital to the growth of a young Duke team. Aided by repeat injuries to both of Duke’s point guards, the transfer of a player and the suspension of another, the 2018-2019 season has shown itself to be largely a learning year for the Blue Devils. In fact, the theme of growth has managed to find its way into nearly every postgame press conference this year. That sentiment was reiterated following Duke’s narrow 63-59 victory against Clemson Thursday.
“We’re excited to get every opportunity and to grow from it and become a better team,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”
The Blue Devils (13-14, 5-10 ACC) typically start two freshmen, guard Miela Goodchild and forward Onome Akinbode-James, who also happen to be roommates. The successful integration of Goodchild and Akinbode-James into Duke’s system seems the lone silver lining in its worst season since 1993. The tandem naturally credits their veteran teammates for setting the example.
“Definitely, we can piggyback off of our leaders, who are able to [never give up],” Akinbode-James said. “It’s part of that growth over the course of the season.”
Akinbode-James and Goodchild got to put that never-quit attitude on display Thursday, as both rebounded from poor first halves to come back from down nine. The Australian native Goodchild scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half, and the Nigerian native Akinbode-James pulled down nine rebounds and blocked five shots after the intermission.
With a big game Sunday, Goodchild could play her way into the record books. She is only four 3-pointers away from tying Rebecca Greenwell’s record for three-pointers in a season by a freshman. However, the Blue Devils will not be facing the same Tar Heel squad they demolished Feb. 7.
One big difference from the earlier matchup in February is the return of North Carolina (17-12, 8-7) star senior guard Paris Kea, who missed the game due to the flu. The redshirt senior is averaging 16.7 points per game on the year and posted a huge 30-point, 10-assist outing in an upset win over Notre Dame.
Following Sunday’s game, the Blue Devils will head down the road to Greensboro to kick off the ACC Tournament. Full seeding will be released on Sunday night, but Duke will take part in the opening round on Wednesday.
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