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The Devil's in the details: Men's and women's basketball teams encounter ups and downs of conference play

Elizabeth Balogun's 27 points and last-minute heroics pushed Duke women's basketball to a big win against Notre Dame.
Elizabeth Balogun's 27 points and last-minute heroics pushed Duke women's basketball to a big win against Notre Dame.

They say the devil is in the details. But in Durham, the Blue Devils are in the details—and numbers.

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Duke women’s basketball took a different approach in its win against then-No. 17 Notre Dame to start 2022, with only four of its 72 points coming from players off of the bench. In the Blue Devils’ previous contests, bench players notched an average of 34.2 points per game, oftentimes thanks to one of the team’s leading scorers, freshman guard Shayeann Day-Wilson. This was the first game of the season in which Duke's opponent’s bench outscored its own, and it was also the lowest-scoring game for the Blue Devils' bench by a wide margin, with their second-lowest total being 11 against Virginia Tech. Other players stepped up to make up for Day-Wilson’s unusual lack of shooting grace, most notably senior Elizabeth Balogun, who dropped a season-high 27 points. Overall, the Blue Devils landed 10-of-20 attempts from three, a fantastic and tone-shifting performance to kick off the new year after the team shot poorly from three in December. 

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Duke men's basketball drew so many fouls against Georgia Tech in its second ACC matchup of the season that it filled the headlines after the game, but it bears repeating. The Yellow Jackets committed 27 personal fouls in the Tuesday night meeting compared to Duke’s 14. This performance caused two Georgia Tech starters to foul out and allowed Duke to outscore its opponents from the free-throw line 26-9. Not only did the Blue Devils draw more fouls in this bout than in any of their previous games this season, but Duke’s points from the stripe were what allowed it to secure the win, as the Yellow Jackets stung the home team by outscoring it from the field. Keeping up this pace when it comes to drawing fouls can only serve Duke well. The Blue Devils have only committed as many fouls as their opponents in two matches this year, in a win against Appalachian State and in a road loss to Ohio State.

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Going back to women’s basketball, the team put forth a united effort against Syracuse on Sunday after the unfortunate injury of junior guard Celeste Taylor. In her absence, not only did five players put up double-digit points, but all five improved on their scoring averages for the season and snagged some additional accomplishments. Senior Onome Akinbode-James was the star of the show with a career-high 16-point performance and senior guard Miela Goodchild dropped 13 points, including four three-pointers, which moved her into a tie for tenth place on Duke's all-time 3-point leaderboard with Lexie Brown. Along with adding 11 points, graduate forward Lexi Gordon collected four assists. Day-Wilson and graduate student Jade Williams came off the bench and filled out the fivesome, nabbing two steals and seven rebounds, respectively. 

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While the men’s basketball team was not in top form in its Saturday matchup with ACC foe Miami, it certainly was not a blowout for the Hurricanes. That fact is made all the more clear by the 15 lead changes that occurred throughout the game, the most in any game for the Blue Devils this season. Despite the game's disappointing conclusion, the back-and-forth nature of the match shows that Miami had to capitalize on every single weakness in Duke’s performance to stay even in the points column. The Hurricanes forced 17 turnovers, including 15 steals, but even then only finished the game two points ahead. As the Blue Devils enters their next contest even further removed from their 12-day COVID-19 pause, there is hope they will lock down on these weaknesses and flip opportunities in their favor. 

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