COLUMBIA, S.C.—It felt like you were watching a live-action remake of the David and Goliath gone wrong.
The unranked Blue Devils walked into Colonial Life Arena for their last game before Christmas break hoping to take down a young, surging home team in No. 5 South Carolina.
But instead of David taking down Goliath with a slung rock, Duke threw the rock away more times than the team put it through the hoop on the way to its second-worst offensive performance of the season.
The Gamecocks won 89-46 Thursday night, a massive 43-point margin of victory. The last time Duke lost by more than 40 points was also at the hands of Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley's team, back when she was a senior playing for Virginia in 1992.
“We generate a lot of offense from our defense. It was great to be a part of,” Staley said. “I didn’t anticipate it would get out of hand like this, but I mean I would rather be on this side of it.”
Duke (7-4) couldn't get shots to fall after the first quarter, the only period in which the Blue Devils kept the game close. After putting up 14 points in the first 10 minutes, they only scored five points in the second quarter. By the time they retreated to the locker room for halftime, the Gamecocks were up 37-19.
Only one Duke player—sophomore guard Miela Goodchild—cracked double-digits, putting up 11 points in the game. Graduate guard Haley Gorecki, the team's leading scorer this season, was held to four points on the night.
“We’re a balanced team, we need about four or five people in double-figures," Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
Staley noted Gorecki's scoring potential for Duke and said the Gamecocks did a "great job on her."
“When you cut the head off, the rest of it will fall," Staley said. "I thought that’s what we did.”
While offense was hard to come by, the Blue Devils gave up many of their chances. The team came into the game averaging nearly 18 turnovers per game, but it nearly matched that in the first half, giving the ball to South Carolina 15 times. The ball protection was equally messy in the second half with 15 turnovers again; the last time Duke had 30 turnovers was in 2016.
The Gamecocks (11-1) scored 41 points off the Blue Devils' giveaways. And what Duke didn't give up, the Gamecocks took—South Carolina out-rebounded Duke offensively and defensively and had 15 steals compared to the Blue Devils' 11.
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"Points off turnovers tells the whole story there, not being strong on the ball. You have to give credit for that, you can’t just whine about it or complain about it," McCallie said. "They were very, very aggressive, and there were many, many times we didn’t play together as a team. We tried to do things one-on-one, and in this kind of environment that isn’t a healthy way to go offensively, and it cost us."
While McCallie hammered home the need for poise during the press conference, one bright spot for the Blue Devils' was freshman guard Azana Baines' calmness under pressure from the free-throw line. She knocked down six of eight free throws despite a raucous crowd of more than 11,000 fans.
"Great crowd, great atmosphere," McCallie said. "That’s a good thing for women’s basketball and particularly for our young people to be out there in that kind of environment.”
The Blue Devils will look to right the ship when they take on FGCU in Florida Dec. 29. Then Duke will turn to conference play, kicking off their ACC schedule against Wake Forest at home.
"I think there are some very, very good lessons from this whole pre-Christmas schedule, it’s been a hard one," McCallie said. "It’s been a challenging schedule, but I think there are some things staring right at us for to get ready for the ACC season."