With just over three seconds left, down three, in a game the Blue Devils had shot under 30% from three, it looked like things were over for Duke. But when point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson popped open in the corner and fired up a perfect rainbow to the rim, it looked like the Blue Devils had found a miracle.
Until, that is, the whistle sounded. Just as Day-Wilson’s would-be game-tying shot found the bottom of the net, she was called out-of-bounds—her near-overtime-forcing shot came with her left foot outside the court.
The Blue Devils lost to Florida State 59-56 Thursday, dropping the sixth of its last 10 conference games. To maintain its hope of avoiding the conference’s top two seeds in the first round of the ACC tournament, Duke (15-8, 6-7 in the ACC) needed a win over a surging Florida State (12-10, 6-6) squad. And while the middle half of the game painted the Blue Devils as a team still alive in such hopes, their future became even bleaker after a chaotic finish.
Combo guard Miela Goodchild led Duke with 13 points on 4-of-11 from the field and 3-of-7 from three, four rebounds, two assists and two steals; no other Blue Devil scored in double-digits, as the team shot just 31.8% overall and 29.2% from deep. Florida State was led by big wing Morgan Jones’ 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and two steals.
“I wish I knew [why we started slow] — I'd change something. I don't know,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “We certainly obviously talked about it. And we've talked about it with them, and talked about how important it is to try and set the tone, particularly at home, when you don't want the road team feeling pretty good about themselves. You've got an opportunity to get a lead early. We'll keep coaching them; that's our job. We'll keep coaching them, and we'll keep trying to give them confidence, and then keep talking to them about how important it is that they are more disciplined and focused at the start of games.”
It had looked like the game was over coming out of the fourth-quarter media timeout. Florida State led by 10, with less than four minutes to go. Duke had gotten outscored 18-6 to start the quarter, in a game the Blue Devils notched more than 12 points just once in the first three quarters. But Duke plays its best in the final minutes.
Timely pick-and-roll actions, transition points and suddenly stout rim protection powered the Blue Devils to an 11-2 run, giving them a chance at the game-winning shot. But Day-Wilson missed a short pull-up, and after combo forward Lexi Gordon recovered the rebound, Goodchild missed on an early-clock contested three. Florida State rebounded and called timeout, leading 57-56.
With Florida State not being in the bonus, Duke opted not to immediately foul the ensuing inbounds. The sideline trap didn’t work, and five seconds ticked off before Florida State took another inbounds. Duke fouled center River Baldwin immediately, who missed one at the line to give Duke a chance to tie or win the game. But Day-Wilson again missed on a pull-up three. Florida State big Erin Howard went to the line, where she too missed one of her attempts but grew the lead to 59-56.
Then Duke nearly tied the game.
“[It’s] a low-percentage chance to win games, when you have to make a last gasp,” said Lawson.
After letting Florida State mess around for the first three quarters, head coach Sue Semrau got serious in the fourth. She started the period off with a floppy to get off-ball guard Sammie Puisis an open three, got point guard Bianca Jackson open at the rim on a flex screen and rolled Baldwin off a loop for easy post position in addition to getting better looks in empty two-player actions. Florida State scored 12 points within the first five minutes of the frame, the only time either team did so in the entire game. With its lead extended to eight points at the media timeout, but that was too much for the Blue Devils to overcome.
Duke head coach Kara Lawson turned to a 3-2 zone after the break to counter Florida State’s penetration. But it just responded by swinging the ball around the horn until Jackson was open on the right wing. Jackson’s three caught nothing but net, as the deficit moved to 10.
“We felt like we had the size advantage, obviously; they were playing a guard at that four spot,” said Semrau. “So we wanted to take advantage of that, almost to a fault… I thought that our posts were really relentless and that was critical.”
The Blue Devils’ final lead of the game was generated as most of its second-quarter comeback had been: Turning defense into offense. Combo guard Celeste Taylor matched a Jones drive step-for-step and blocked her at the cup, took the ball up the court, then kicked it out towards the corner to an open Goodchild. Goodchild stepped back as she got the ball, rose up, and swished in a three to nab a 34-32 lead.
“[Duke’s] got a lot of new players and a lot of things to put together,” said Semrau. “And Kara has done a great job of putting them in a position where they've had a lot of really good wins.”
The Blue Devils came alive in the second quarter, out-rebounding Florida State, forcing five turnovers and six fouls, and matching their most offensive production in a period since Louisville two weeks ago. Duke found its way to methodically open shots for its best players, eschewing off-ball Taylor threes for downhill actions, finding Balogun as a secondary threat instead of as a primary creator and turning defense into offense by more than tripling its first-quarter points off turnovers.
The Blue Devils scored in all manner of ways in the second; Day-Wilson threes, Elizabeth Balogun baseline floaters, free-throws off Taylor charges-drawn all helped Duke close to a one-point halftime deficit.
Duke started the game with its third-worst quarter of the year, scoring just eight points while missing 17 shots—just a week after setting a season-low with only five to open against Georgia Tech. After hitting their second shot from the field, the Blue Devils missed 11-straight, a four-minute-long stretch after which Florida State only led by three thanks to equally poor offensive play. Fans were treated to an opening frame in which Duke shot 19% from the field, Florida State committed six turnovers and the teams combined to miss all nine of their threes.
“It's the ACC; we didn't come out and compete,” said center Onome Akibode-James. “And we got beat.”
Duke's next contest is against N.C. State at home Sunday.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.