With both Duke and Florida State entering Thursday’s contest at Cameron Indoor Stadium off the back of necessary wins, the stakes are high for whose momentum will continue and whose will falter once again this season. Here are five things to look out for as the now-unranked Blue Devils take on the Seminoles.
Righting of the ship
After a three-game losing skid saw the Blue Devils (15-7, 6-6 ACC) fall from confident ACC heavyweights to discouraged underdogs, they’ve won two on the bounce and head into Thursday with a bit of that confidence back. Head coach Kara Lawson has been back on the sidelines after a week’s absence due to health and safety protocols and junior guard Celeste Taylor is back from a shoulder injury, and the combination of these two returns seems to be a bit of the secret sauce Duke needs to push up the conference table.
Florida State (11-10, 5-6 ACC), on the other hand, has had a turbulent season overall but enters Cameron Indoor Stadium on the back of a 70-65 triumph against No. 20 Notre Dame after losses against No. 3 N.C. State and No. 5 Louisville. Neither team is in the form of their life right now, but both have moved past rough patches to grab encouraging wins and will hope Thursday’s contest can build on these inklings of momentum.
In Duke’s most recent win, an 81-76 nailbiter against Wake Forest, there were two standout players that each posted over 20 points: Shayeann Day-Wilson and Lexi Gordon. While Day-Wilson’s success has been well-documented, the graduate forward enjoyed a perhaps even more remarkable last week for the Blue Devils. She shot a combined 13-of-21 from the field and 7-of-14 from deep in the games against Pittsburgh and Wake, notching 12 points in the former and 23 in the latter.
Taylor and Elizabeth Balogun got the majority of the attention leading into this season in Duke’s transfer-heavy roster, but Gordon has quietly cemented herself as a key component of Lawson’s starting five. In the 13 games she’s played this season, she’s started all of them and provided a consistent scoring threat throughout. She’s only eclipsed in points per game by Day-Wilson and Taylor, and will be a thorn in the Seminoles’ side if her sharpshooting and free-scoring continues.
Florida State’s win against Notre Dame was impressive for a multitude of reasons, one of them being the fantastic game put on by senior Valencia Myers. The 6-foot-3 forward has struggled at points this season and only hit double digits in scoring twice in ACC play, was shut out against N.C. State and held to a maximum of eight points in the six games prior. Safe to say, however, she’s ended that cold streak.
Myers shot 7-of-9 from the field for 14 points and put up eight boards against the Irish, leading her team in both categories despite playing for only 26 minutes. She has the build and skills to carry an opposing team in and around the paint and, even if games like this have been few and far between for her, turned it to 11 when her team needed a marquee win. Perhaps Duke has fallen from the moniker of “marquee,” but a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium is impressive nonetheless.
Another week, another slew of impressive performances for Day-Wilson. The freshman guard has been certifiably on fire for most of this season, leading her team with 13.1 points per game and hitting double digits in each of her last 10 outings. She put up 25 points against top-five Louisville and 22 against Wake Forest Sunday, adding to an already impressive resume for a player that saw starting berths hard to come by for much of the season.
Safe to say, that’s no longer been the case. There’s still debate as to whether Day-Wilson or Vanessa de Jesus should start at point guard given their different skill sets, but if the Blue Devils need points there’s really only one player they’ve turned to in this gruelling ACC slate. With Taylor still getting her sizzling early season form back, a lot of the playmaking and scoring burden against Florida State will be placed on Day-Wilson’s shoulders. Given what we’ve seen so far, another barnstormer wouldn’t be surprising.
Given how tight the ACC is this year, it’s no shock that places sixth through ninth on the conference table are separated only by a single win. Duke and Florida State are both among that pack, with the Blue Devils sitting in sixth and the Seminoles ninth, respectively, with Boston College and Miami in between. All four of these teams possess an ACC record of 6-6 or 5-6, meaning a win or, crucially, loss against another can swing the makeup of the table drastically.
Thursday is one such game. Should Florida State win, its record jumps to an even 6-6 and Duke’s to a losing 6-7, theoretically putting the Seminoles higher up the table. Conversely, the Blue Devils can improve to 7-6 and condemn their North Florida opponents to a two-game gap. The contest at Cameron Indoor Stadium won’t be the difference between winning the ACC and losing it, obviously, but it can be the difference between a top and bottom half finish. Both teams will be eager to avoid that fate.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.