The 17th-ranked Blue Devils were playing against two opponents at Carrier Dome Jan. 9: Syracuse and unpredictable setbacks.
Before the game even started, junior guard Nyah Green was forced to miss the matchup due to Duke’s health and safety protocols. On top of that, star player Celeste Taylor was out of the game with a shoulder sling from the second quarter onward after a rough collision with a Syracuse player over a loose ball. Meanwhile, key veteran Elizabeth Balogun had an off game with only a single point scored. On paper, this should’ve led to a narrow loss to a very physical Syracuse program, yet the win serves as a testament to Duke’s depth with Onome Akinbode-James leading the way for the program’s 400th victory in the ACC.
“It was tough to see Celeste hit the ground, but we had to still execute our game plan,” said Akinbode-James. “So we just all had to go with [the game plan] and try to get a win for her.”
Akinbode-James stepped up in a big way, registering a career-high 16 points on 5-of-9 field goals along with six rebounds and a team-high two blocks, all in 18 minutes. Despite having the shortest amount of playing time among starters excluding the injured Taylor, Akinbode-James was able to shine in her third-straight start with her first double-digit scoring effort this season.
While the statistics themselves demonstrate Akinbode-James’s important two-way contribution at the Carrier Dome, it was ultimately her team-first mentality that dictated a lot of her offensive and defensive actions. With such a mentality, Akinbode-James was able to hustle on both ends of the floor and step up to fill the offensive gaps without Taylor on the floor. Hence, her strong performance served as momentum for her teammates—forming an especially lethal duo with senior guard Miela Goodchild, who tied 10th place on Duke’s all-time 3-pointers made with 142 in the same game.
“Be ready whenever your number’s called. Whenever we are called to start playing, we just have to be ready,” said Akinbode-James. “Obviously, I don’t [usually] play this position, but I’m willing to contribute [in any way] for the team.”
Arguably, where Akinbode-James contributed most to this game was her 6-of-6 showing from the free-throw line. As a career 52.6% free throw shooter, the three-time ACC Honor Roll recipient’s perfect free throws made a huge impact in a game where the lead changed six times and the scores were tied three times. Especially during times of scoreless runs against a tough Syracuse zone defense, Akinbode-James’s free throws slowly pushed Duke’s lead to the 74-65 victory. If anything, her six free throw attempts reflect her fearless playstyle, as she is not one to shy away from contact against physical opponents. All in all, the 6-foot-3 center-forward displayed confidence in her game throughout the 40-minute campaign, propelling her to reach another milestone in her collegiate career.
“[I just] stayed ready, and today it just worked out,” Akinbode-James said.
As such, the Blue Devils were able to pick up their first conference road game win. Duke will look to continue its strong season in its next matchup against Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium Jan. 13.
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