Duke put on a clinic from the opening tip in its 83-56 win against Western Carolina Sunday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils clearly had the size advantage, dominating the rebound battle 50-31. But as the game progressed, the home team showcased another strength that perhaps wasn’t as clear coming into the game: 3-point shooting.
Duke tied a school record with 13 made threes, with its 33 attempts from deep making up half of the team’s total field goal attempts Sunday. The effort from beyond the arc posed a drastic contrast to the team’s performance in Wednesday’s win against Longwood, in which the Blue Devils attempted only 12 threes.
The change in the Blue Devils’ production wasn’t necessarily a change in game plan, however, but rather a result of what the Catamounts’ defense handed them.
“All of our players know philosophically, if they’re open, they shoot it,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said. “All of our players have that green light when they’re open beyond the arc.”
Western Carolina’s defensive set was able to stymie the Duke bigs scoring-wise, but simultaneously opened up space for drive and kick to the corners for open shots—Blue Devil center Jade Williams notched a career-high eight assists in the contest, six of which led to triples.
“Our ability to match up appropriately throughout the course of that game was pretty poor,” Western Carolina head coach Kiley Hill said. “We were actually running a little bit of a ‘triangle-and-two’ at certain times and forcing [Duke] to shoot the basketball and daring them to shoot it.”
Lawson added that the high screens Williams set throughout the afternoon were instrumental in creating space and passing lanes from the inside-out, and that bringing the center out to the top of the key or the elbow was a centerpiece of the offense Lawson helped develop as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics last year.
“Jade's obviously a really important piece to what we do,” Lawson said. “She's an excellent passer, makes great reads. And so as you can see, she's somebody that's a big part of how we play, because she can pull away from the basket, she can make passes, she can make shots from out there.”
The shooting barrage began in the first quarter, when freshman point guard Vanessa de Jesus nailed two quick threes and junior Miela Goodchild added one of her own within the first 3:05 of the contest.
Duke’s leading scorer, graduate transfer Sara Anastasieksa, took some time to find her groove from downtown, making only one of her five tries in the first half. But her persistence in taking the open shots resulted in a respectable 5-of-13 clip by game’s end, the five makes tying a career high.
“I don’t really go in and say, ‘We’re gonna do this the whole game,’” Lawson said. “It depends on who has it going and also depends on what they do defensively…. It’s more about what the defense dictates and how they’re playing things than us going in and deciding to do one thing or the other.”
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When asked if she was comfortable taking 33 threes again, Lawson promptly responded, “Heck yeah.”
This kind of confidence in her players’ shooting abilities makes it easy for Duke’s offense to find its rhythm, as shooters like Goodchild, Anastasieska and de Jesus know the green light will be on from opening tip to final buzzer.
And while it’s important not to overreact to early nonconference blowouts, don’t be surprised if outside shooting becomes a key identity for this year’s Blue Devils as the season goes on.