A new era in Duke women’s basketball began Wednesday afternoon, and it didn't take long for the Blue Devils to get off to a strong start.
Duke jumped out to an early lead and finished with a convincing 94-64 victory against Longwood in Kara Lawson's first game as head coach. The Blue Devils came out firing from the field behind freshman Vanessa de Jesus and sophomore Jaida Patrick, two of five Duke players to score in double digits.
Patrick recorded a career-high 21 points along with seven rebounds and five assists, while de Jesus finished her collegiate debut with 13 points and four assists on 5-of-9 shooting. The team shot 57.6 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle 53-29.
“[Patrick] was focused and came out aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Lawson said. “JP has the makings of a really good defensive player with her length and her athleticism…. On the offensive end she keeps growing each day. She keeps working on getting better at scoring, getting better at making reads, getting better at seeing the passes and putting in a lot of time after practice.”
With over 60 percent of the team’s scoring from last year gone, the Blue Devils turned to a balanced scoring approach, finding the open player through efficient passing and finding the open player near the basket.
To open the first quarter, senior center Jade Williams dished out a pair of assists to junior Miela Goodchild and Patrick for the first two scores of the contest. Not long after, Patrick drained a three off an assist from de Jesus. These four players, alongside junior Onome Akinbode-James, made up the starting rotation for Duke to open up the season.
From the tip off, defense was a key to success, with the Blue Devils holding Longwood scoreless for the first 4:51 of the game. During this time, Duke shot out to a 10-0 lead on the heels of efficient performances from both Patrick and de Jesus.
With senior point guard Mikayla Boykin out with a sore knee—Lawson said she’s “hoping to have her back soon” but “not sure” when that will be—de Jesus ran the offense and scored seven straight points toward the end of the first quarter, highlighted by a step-back triple with 2:33 remaining in the period.
“[De Jesus is] just a talented player. She’s very composed and she’s got a great demeanor for a point guard,” Lawson said. “She knows our offense like the back of her hand. She knows where everyone’s supposed to be on the court on every play.”
Graduate transfer Sara Anastasieska was the first player to come off the Duke bench. She drained a baseline jumper with 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter, finishing her Blue Devil debut with six points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Duke closed out the opening frame leading 23-10 on 56.7 percent shooting from the floor.
The second quarter followed a similar pattern, with Patrick and de Jesus continuing to lead the surging Blue Devil attack into halftime—the duo scored 10 and 11 points, respectively, as Duke led 44-29 at the break.
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Three of Patrick’s nine baskets in the game came off assists from de Jesus.
“With a player like Vanessa, she is great at reading the open look and is great at realizing what is the best thing to do in that instance, whether it be going into a nice pull-up, or seeing somebody slash, or the corner three,” Patrick said. “It’s really not something she had to work on honestly because Vanessa has eyes all over and she’s just a phenomenal point guard. I’m really excited to see what she’s going to do this year.”
Akinbode-James scored 10 points in the third quarter and concluded with 15 points and a team-high 16 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Williams finished with 12 points, five boards and six assists.
“I don’t think anything particularly changed,” Akinbode-James said of her third quarter performance. “I think just sometimes the play call is for you and sometimes it’s not. But, we are supportive of one another in that regard.”
The team also announced during the game that Jennifer Ezeh, who missed last season with an ACL tear, will be out this season. The sophomore forward suffered another ACL tear in her other knee at practice Saturday.
Duke returns to Cameron Indoor Stadium Nov. 29 with a matchup against Western Carolina.