Quality first quarter, sloppy second quarter, dreadful third quarter, meaningless fourth quarter.
That’s been the formula for Duke’s most recent losses, this time a 78-56 loss in front of a sellout crowd in Fort Myers, Fla., at FGCU. Like the South Carolina loss before this, the Blue Devils had more turnovers than field goals Sunday afternoon, came out of halftime looking flat-footed, and couldn’t hit a contested shot to save their lives in Alico Arena.
“The bottom line is [Duke’s defense] slowed down [FGCU] a great deal,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said on the radio broadcast following the game. “[The Eagles] generally are a team that shoots in the first ten seconds. We slowed them down in the second half, but they still made shots.”
The absence of Blue Devil guard Leaonna Odom was felt heavily today. Odom missed her first game in her four years at Duke (7-5) with a lower-body injury, forcing more minutes out of Jade Williams, Jada Claude, Azana Baines, Jaida Patrick, and Onome Akinbode-James. Baines and Patrick responded well, with the former scoring efficiently and the latter recording a team-best net rating behind great defense.
The minutes given to Claude and Akinbode-James were where Odom’s loss was felt the most. When Odom’s out of the lineup but Akinbode-James is in, Claude and Williams are pushed to forward, a position neither have the foot speed or agility to defend. Without Odom’s defense, which is some of the best in the nation, the team relies upon out-of-position bigs and its defenders cannot freely switch.
Linueps featuring Claude and Williams at forward also slow down the Blue Devil offense. Lacking a true point guard, their offense works best when they space the court and move the ball more often. But having two bigs share the court clogs up the lanes and makes driving harder, especially since none of Duke’s bigs are particularly adept scorers.
The positives and negatives of Duke’s “twin towers” lineups were apparent from the first minute against FGCU (13-2). Duke recorded 13 rebounds in the first, outworking the Eagles on the boards, but shot only 33 percent from the field. The Blue Devils handedly outrebounded FGCU by the end of the game, but had serious difficultly moving the ball, leading to 23 turnovers against just seven assists, their lowest mark this year.
The irony is that the Eagles outscored them in the paint.
“I saw our team working really hard,” McCallie told GoDuke.com. “But I also saw us not getting critical stops, and playing the kind of defense that would be necessary against this kind of team.”
FGCU took advantage of all of Duke’s most obvious weaknesses throughout the contest. The Eagles diverted defensive attention towards Haley Gorecki and Meila Goodchild and away from Kyra Lambert and the bigs. Gorecki and Goodchild combined for just four buckets.
The Eagles zipped the ball around the arc and took a bevy of threes—perimeter defense being the consistent weakness of McCallie’s match-up zone—and moved the ball into the paint once the Blue Devils were overcommitting to the deep ball. The Eagles took control in the second quarter, but they really hit the gas in the third quarter, as Duke continued their trend of coming out of halftime lifelessly.
“Foul trouble cost us in the first half… but that was an even game in the first half,” McCallie told GoDuke.com. “Second half, we had no leadership defensively, no ability to really dig down, and that’s critical.”
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Despite a game McCallie described as having “great lessons for everyone,” the Blue Devils yet again fell victim to the same mistakes they have throughout the year. In a season marked by constant turnover among the top rankings, there is yet to be much evidence that Duke’s very fixable issues are getting any better.