Strong showing for Duke women’s basketball in season-opening win over Winthrop

Vanessa De Jesus and the rest of the Blue Devils put the pedal to the medal in their first game of the season.
Vanessa De Jesus and the rest of the Blue Devils put the pedal to the medal in their first game of the season.

If there were major concerns about how well a mostly new team of transfers could play together, Duke sure did its best to put them to rest.

The Blue Devils led Winthrop wire-to-wire in a 95-39 win during their first game in Cameron Indoor Stadium since December 2020. Wing Lexi Gordon led the Blue Devils with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting (5-of-10 from three), with big Imani Lewis scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, plus six rebounds and four steals. Off-ball guard Celeste Taylor added 11 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals, while combo guard Vanessa de Jesus made a run at a triple-double with seven points, six rebounds and eight assists with zero turnovers.

“Another game where we got contributions from a lot of players,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “This is gonna be a theme for us all year: we're gonna have a lot of players lead us in scoring; we're gonna have a lot of different players lead us in minutes; we're just going to have a lot of different people contributing… To be able to get a lot of players in the game, and get some continuity, and get some more chemistry built, I think was important.”

The Blue Devils scored on their first possession of the game, as Taylor ghosted off a backside stagger, opening the backside 3-point line for Gordon to pop out. A quick catch, turn and shot, and Duke had its first points of the year. Gordon took the team’s next two attempts, both spot-up threes in the Blue Devils’ second time on offense, before de Jesus got on the board with a putback—Duke's third offensive rebound of that possession.

Three offensive rebounds in a single possession is, of course, a lot. But Duke did it again at the end of the quarter, with Lewis rebounding two missed threes and another going as a team rebound, before Miela Goodchild hit a hook shot under the rim. In all, the Blue Devils had six offensive rebounds in the first quarter, taking up nearly two minutes on just three possessions.

Duke apparently got tired of all that offensive rebounding. So they decided to simply make every shot instead.

The Blue Devils went on a 14-0 run over the last half of the first quarter, kicking off a 30-5 run through the 2:06 mark of the second. Much of that was keyed by backup point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, who had four assists in the half in just 11 minutes. De Jesus, who starts at point guard, shared the court with Day-Wilson for five minutes in the half; despite sliding to a secondary playmaker role for that period, she finished the half on triple-double watch—five points, six rebounds and five assists, against just one missed shot and no turnovers.

Day-Wilson and de Jesus may have been the only Blue Devils with multiple assists, but the team shared the wealth as a whole, going into halftime with 13 assists on 17 made baskets.

“Well I think the first thing we were able to do was get out and run,” Lawson said. “And I thought we did a good job moving the ball. I thought we got great looks… So as long as we're doing that, I'm happy. If we go 0-for-21, but they were good looks, the players know I've got full confidence in them. If they're taking good shots, I want them to keep taking them.”

Despite holding the Eagles under 40 points, Duke’s defensive communication had plenty of struggles. Its ball-screen hedges looked a lot more dynamic than they had in its exhibition last Thursday, as did its help defense and recoveries. But there was still confusion over the timing of switches and the backside rotations. And players like Day-Wilson, Gordon and Lewis had weaknesses such as containing dribble-penetration and strength laid bare many times. Had Winthrop been able to convert bunnies and semi-open shots, the final score would’ve looked different.

Duke started the third quarter just as well as it ended the second, with the drive-and-kick game continuing to find open shooters and force the Eagles into rotation. But their shots weren’t falling quite as well, and the lead wasn’t expanding.

So Lawson unveiled a relatively big lineup, featuring Nyah Green at the three, Lewis at the four, and Onome Akinbode-James at the five, the latter being replaced by Amaya Finklea-Guity partway through. The experiment worked, as their strength proved a tougher challenge for Winthrop, who couldn’t contend with that strength on the glass and on low drives. The Blue Devils went on a 28-7 run starting near the end of the third and going through the mid-fourth.

Duke’s lead extended past 50 in that time, allowing Lawson to sub in freshman off-ball guard Lee Volker and senior guard Jiselle Havas. The former first got into the box score with a driving assist for a Goodchild layup and her first points on a pair of free-throws; the latter got her first stat line on a kick-out assist to a Green three.

The Blue Devils head next to Dayton, Ohio to play the Flyers Friday at 6 p.m.

“Dayton's really good. It's gonna be a really, really tough game for us,” said Lawson. “It'll be harder to do what we did tonight defensively against them, it's gonna be harder to score against them than it was tonight… They've got a really good basketball environment up there in Dayton. And so it'll be fun. I'm anxious to see how we play.”


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