To say it’s crunch time would be an understatement.
With the Duke seniors on the brink of concluding their college athletic careers, an NCAA tournament berth all but out of reach and an away bout with North Carolina still looming in front of them, there is a lot the Blue Devils can and need to take away from their 67-51 loss to Boston College Thursday night in their penultimate regular season game.
While some quality shots were not falling for the Blue Devils, the core of their loss stemmed from inefficiency in disrupting the roaring Eagle offense, which shot 49.1% from the floor.
“To come back in the game, a lot of people think you have to score, but you really need stops,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “That gives you an opportunity to run out.”
For Duke, strong defensive performances, including crowd-inciting blocks by Duke forward Onome Akinbode-James and pressure from guard Celeste Taylor, were not enough to prevent the Eagles from engaging in economical off ball movement and stalwart play in the post.
Boston College guard Makayla Dickens tallied 16 points by repeatedly finding holes in the Duke defense, driving through the paint for layups and guard Cameron Swartz led all scorers with 21. Center Maria Gakdeng was a force to be reckoned with under the basket, collecting 16 points.
“I think the main thing was staying poised on offense,” said Gakdeng on the team’s 17-2 run that spanned from the first to the second quarter.
In the face of this composed scoring pressure, Duke did not back down, but grew antsy and impatient. After that Boston scoring run, Duke converted on some turnovers to bring the deficit down to five towards the end of the second quarter. However, this momentum would not hold, in part because the Blue Devils handed their opponents ample chances at the free throw line, breaking up the flow of the game and giving Boston College 10 points on 15 attempts from the stripe compared to Duke’s 6-of-9 mark.
So what led to these defensive holes for Duke? A big part was its lack of pressure on Boston College before the Eagles entered the offensive zone.
“I thought during the stretch in the second half when [Boston College] created the most separation, we fell short in our transition defense,” said Lawson. “There were around three 3-pointers in a row, and it was a 16-point deficit all of a sudden.”
Allowing the Eagles to fly into their offensive zone however they pleased made defending them once they got there harder, and that difficulty resulted in more open looks for them and more fouls delivered by the Blue Devils.
If Duke does not up the ante against North Carolina, it would be hard to imagine it pulling out a win.
“On Sunday, we're playing a team whose transition offense is one of the best in the league, one of the best in the country,” said Lawson of the Tar Heels.
North Carolina is 12-5 on the season in ACC games, and beat Duke 78-62 with said transition mastery in Cameron Indoor earlier in the season.
In Duke’s contest against Boston College, the Eagles gave up more turnovers than the Blue Devils, but converted on more of their possessions to take the win. Duke is unlikely to hold onto this advantage against the Tar Heels, as they have the best turnover margin and third-best steals per game of ACC teams.
This Blue Devil team fought to some exciting wins earlier in the season, and it never stopped trying to find new ways to approach the basket against Boston College. With the regular season and the seniors’ college careers culminating in the epic atmosphere the rivalry will surely impart, a renaissance against North Carolina will be extremely challenging for Duke, but certainly not impossible.
“You don’t sit back and wait, you have to go make something happen,” said Lawson on how the team will come back from this loss. “So, that’s our job, we’ve got to make something happen on Sunday and I’m excited for our group to have that opportunity.”
The Blue Devils face off with the Tar Heels in Carmichael Arena at 4 p.m. Sunday.
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