Time flies, doesn’t it?
It feels like just last week that the season began, but here we are: Duke’s final home game of the year. Spirits were high prior to tipoff, with Senior Night festivities honoring the six Blue Devil seniors with framed jerseys, white roses and escorts by their families (including a virtual appearance from Miela Goodchild’s parents in Australia), but were once again dampened as the team fell for its fourth loss in five games 67-51 to Boston College at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A trying latter half of the season brought the Blue Devils from top-25 shoo-ins for the NCAA tournament to a team firmly on the bubble. Even Sunday’s win against Clemson didn’t allay concerns of Duke’s consistency or ability to close out games, and so a victory against a struggling Boston College outfit that itself was named “last team in” by ESPN’s bracketology before its trip to Durham would have been crucial for Duke in salvaging any faint hopes of a tournament berth.
“Disappointing, clearly,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “It’s a game that we wanted to win but we have to move on.”
In another disappointing chapter of a difficult last few weeks, Duke (16-11, 7-10 in the ACC) once again came just short.
A fourth-quarter comeback attempt brought Duke the closest it had been to overtaking Boston College since the game’s opening minutes, but it ultimately failed to do so despite its spirited efforts to give the seniors on the team a victorious last outing at home. Disappointingly for the Blue Devils, it was on the whole a game in which Duke was not often competitive, leading just once and trailing by double-digits for most of the game.
Freshman guard Shayeann Day-Wilson pulled the strings once again for head coach Kara Lawson and company on the offensive end with her team-leading 12 points, four boards and five assists. The Toronto native was averaging 12.4 points per game entering Thursday's contest in her rookie season, leading the team and ousting sophomore guard Vanessa de Jesus in the starting rotation. Amid inconsistent performances from many Blue Devils, Day-Wilson herself was once again consistent.
“You could see that she started to take more initiative to get into the paint, she got to the free throw line and she created some plays,” said Lawson. “We need that type of intensity and competitiveness. That competitiveness is something that has been there all year.”
A laborious start to the third quarter brought early success for the Blue Devils as an Onome Akinbode-James layup and Lexi Gordon trey brought the game within two possessions. The Eagles stormed back with a 19-7 run of their own to close out the period and further illustrated a frustrating trend for the Blue Devils this evening; just when they hit from the field, so did Boston College.
Early in the first quarter, Duke found itself up 6-2 after Gordon broke the initial deadlock from a corner three and graduate student Jade Williams notched an and-one shortly after. It held its advantage for a while, but fell victim to a 17-4 surge by Boston College and found itself trailing by nine points heading into the second.
Duke then turned around its early-quarter woes and sent its own slippery hands and blunt-edged offense the way of Boston College, itself becoming ruthless, hungry and clinical when it found itself down double digits. A deep jumper from Day-Wilson and a layup from Williams kick-started a Blue Devil run that cut the deficit to 31-23 at the half.
Things followed this pattern for much of the game: Duke would get hot, then Boston College, then Duke again. It just so happened that the Eagles’ output on their scoring streaks was much higher than Duke’s.
Duke saw many chances in the opening 20 minutes but was ineffective in turning chances into points; a series of messy jump-balls and layups punching the bottom of the rim just acted to put the rock in Boston College’s hands and in Duke’s own bucket.
This certainly wasn’t helped by the seven blocks and 33 defensive rebounds the Eagles registered to starve the Blue Devil frontcourt of options and force the home team into tough contested shots under the basket.
“A lot of us really wanted to win that game but we had some hiccups and we had some slip ups,” said Day-Wilson. “But I mean, it's all in the game of basketball. It's just all how you bounce back from it.”
It feels repetitive, but one can’t stress enough just how dichotomous this season has been for Duke. Thursday’s defeat was another in a long line of confidence-sapping losses and leaves this team with even more questions to answer as to how it will rebound.
Lawson will likely be hoping Sunday’s visit to North Carolina is a chance for these talented, but struggling, Blue Devils to get back on track.
“I just believe it turns, and most people in life quit before it turns,” said Lawson. “The one thing we will never do in our program is stop believing and stop pushing and stop trying to make something turn.”
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