The buzzer sounds and the half starts. The Blue Devils and the Wildcats battle, but it’s the Wildcats who have the upper hand, getting out to an eight-point lead.
This scenario describes both halves of play in Sunday’s matchup, but the way Duke responded in each was night and day. Duke fell to Northwestern 63-42 after one competitive half and one half that was anything but.
At the start of the game, Northwestern played with more intensity than Duke which was made evident by the scoreboard. After two threes from game-high scorer Lindsey Pulliam and a jumper from Abbie Wolf, the Wildcats led 8-0 in a scenario that began to look grim for Duke. However, the Blue Devils woke up thanks to a Jade Williams layup and started to claw their way back into the game, eventually ending the quarter down 19-11. Duke officially came back in the second period, outscoring Northwestern 14-6, and closing out the half tied at 25-25.
Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown recognized the importance of the second quarter comeback for the Blue Devils.
“We were stuck on 19. We got 25, but it didn’t feel good,” McKeown said. “Duke had gotten the momentum back.”
After four minutes in the second half, the situation looked eerily similar to the first. The Wildcats again had gone on an 8-0 run off two threes from Pulliam and a jumper from Wolf. Before it was too late, Williams hit a run-snapping layup to try and save the day. If Duke had learned anything from its first half, it was clear that the situation was salvageable. Even though the Blue Devils were down and had lost the momentum again, they were fully capable of coming back into the game.
Unfortunately for Duke, the situation did not pan out in the same way.
As Duke’s shots failed, so too did its energy. On their way to shooting 2-for-18 from the field in the third, the Blue Devils let their fundamentals fall apart. Miscommunication and careless ball movement led to five turnovers in the period for Duke while the Wildcats finished with zero. In that one quarter, Northwestern put 29 points on the board compared to Duke’s measly four. In that one quarter, the game was decided.
“I think what you saw in the third quarter was a lack of poise offensively and a lack of poise defensively,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the massacre was over and it was clear that Duke would have no chance of coming back. The Blue Devils might as well have been waving a white flag in the hopes that they could skip those final 10 minutes. Northwestern saw that as an invitation to let off the gas, which it did with no repercussions.
It may be hard for Duke to see a positive from this performance. However, the team can take away the knowledge that it is capable of playing a great brand of basketball. It is capable of being a team that responds to adversity with strength and poise instead of frustration and retreat. Duke should know that it can be a good team, but thanks to today’s performance, it should also know that it can be an ineffective one.
“You count on some lessons for our team to understand that we’re responsible on the floor and we’re responsible for how we respond to adversity and our response was poor,” said McCallie. “I felt we did put our heads down because certain things didn’t go our way and the opposite is necessary.”
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The season is young, and Duke has plenty of time to come back from this disappointing loss. Over the course of the next two weeks, Duke will have four home games, all of which against beatable opponents. This game will serve as an important reminder for the rest of the season that one good half will not win basketball games.