Down by two with a minute to go, all Duke had to do was make one more possession count to come away from Lincoln, Neb., with a victory Wednesday night.
But a highly contested jumper from Leaonna Odom bricked, Jade Williams committed a loose ball foul and Nebraska hit both of its free throws to extend its lead to four. After Kyra Lambert answered with a quick layup, the Blue Devils just needed a stop to get another chance.
Then Miela Goodchild fouled, and again the Cornhuskers extended the lead to four. With only 28 seconds left, that certainly should’ve sealed the game. That is, until Odom sank a layup and Nebraska somehow threw the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds.
So once again, Duke was down by two, with the ball, this time with 11 seconds left. Odom immediately traveled, and that error ultimately sealed the loss for the Blue Devils, who fell in a shootout to the home Cornhuskers 83-79 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"It was a great atmosphere, and a great game to play," Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Very offensive-minded... perhaps a bit too much."
Odom’s late struggles shouldn’t take away from her play through the first 39 minutes, however. She finished the contest with a game-high 20 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter, along with seven rebounds and the Blue Devils’ highest usage rate.
“[Odom] really came to play,” McCallie said. “She had an excellent second half, and had some tough ‘time to score’ points as well.”
The back-and-forth scoring to close the game was a major departure from the rest of the contest. Much of the scoring throughout came on long runs, with Duke (6-3) going on a 7-0 run between the end of the first and start of the second quarter. Nebraska (8-1) immediately answered with a 15-5 run of its own, before the Blue Devils came back for an 11-0 run between the end of the second and start of the third quarter.
These runs were usually more a result of poor defense than excellent shooting, though the Cornhuskers did shoot 44.4 percent on 3-pointers. The Blue Devil defense looked out-of-sorts for much of the game, with their zone failing to cover Nebraska’s plethora of shooters. Duke switched to man defense midway through the third quarter, as its zone proved to be ineffective in stopping the Cornhuskers.
On the other end, the Blue Devils’ points usually came from simply outplaying their own man defenders. Most points came from Haley Gorecki’s acrobatic finishes at the rim, Goodchild pump-faking and running right by a defender or Onome Akinbode-James outmuscling the Cornhuskers’ bigs.
What this game made certain is that Duke suffers from some of the same mistakes that it always has. If it can’t switch away from zone, uses too much full-court press or relies too heavily on its offensive stars, it will continue to lose to unheralded teams. Duke's ACC play, which opens at home against Boston College Sunday, will be long and painful if Wednesday’s mistakes aren’t corrected.
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