GREENSBORO, N.C.—Nearly two months ago, the Blue Devils headed down to Coral Gables, Fla., where a strong fourth quarter from Miela Goodchild staved off a Hurricane upset. Duke sat 38th in the NET rankings at the time, while Miami was outside the top-55.
Thursday, the Blue Devils Greensboro, N.C. sitting 54th in the NET rankings and desperately needing a win against a Miami team up at No. 50. Instead, No. 10-seed Duke blew an early lead to the seventh-seeded Hurricanes, the 61-55 loss likely ending its season. Miami head coach Katie Meier got her first ACC-tournament win against her alma mater, holding the Blue Devils to 32% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers and 19 fouls.
Combo guard Celeste Taylor led Duke with 19 points on 8-of-15 from the field and 3-of-5 from three, five rebounds and two assists against four turnovers; big wing Elizabeth Balogun scored 12 points—her highest total since Jan. 27—on 5-of-11 shooting, with eight rebounds (five offensive), three blocks and five turnovers; and point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson struggled to 12 points on 3-of-13 from the field (0-of-5 from 3-point) and 7-of-10 from the line, six rebounds and six assists against four turnovers.
“It goes down the line to everybody… I think [defense] is where we lacked; we weren't together,” said Taylor. “We let them do what they do. And I think that that really contributed to that downhill slope. But at the end of the day, teams go on runs; basketball is a game of runs. And so we had to find a way to lock in and and play and continue to play, and we failed to do that.”
The game was a cruel metaphor for how Duke’s season has gone: It came out firing against a quality opponent, playing in a way that belied the newness of the team; then, as the going got tougher, the chemistry slowly deteriorated, until the Blue Devils found their backs against the wall. Miami took its first lead with two minutes to go in the fourth. And though Duke (17-13, 7-12 in the ACC) wouldn’t go down without a fight, it ultimately wasn’t enough.
Offensive miscommunications, careless turnovers and missed rotations proved to be too much for it to overcome. Each time the Blue Devils drew the game back within a point, they shot themselves in the foot: Day-Wilson trying a jump-pass to a rolling Jade Williams, who was boxing out in anticipation of a shot; Taylor giving up an and-one on a 3-on-1 Miami fast break; senior guard Miela Goodchild bouncing a post-entry off a Hurricane. From the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter through three minutes remaining, Duke allowed Miami (18-11, 10-8) to score nine-straight points. A questionable foul call on Taylor in transition gave the Hurricanes a five-point lead with a minute left. And that was all she wrote.
Miami scored first to start the game, breaking a Duke streak of five-straight games in which it had recorded the first points. The Blue Devils took the lead by the middle of the opening quarter, though, thanks to an offensive explosion. At the first media timeout, Duke sat just a bucket shy of a new season-high scoring mark against the Hurricanes. Day-Wilson had already notched three assists, Taylor connected on both of her threes, and Balogun—making her third start in the past month—grabbed two offensive boards and a steal.
The Blue Devils closed the first quarter with 22 points, their most prolific period in almost a month. The coaching staff has clearly felt the season on the line, getting creative with 5-1 inverted pick-and-rolls (i.e. Williams handling while Day-Wilson or de Jesus set the screen) and adding new wrinkles to Duke’s elbow sets.
“There were certain specific personnel scout[ing points] that we were blowing, and so Duke got 20 points in the first quarter,” said Miami head coach Katie Meier. “We adjusted and really kind of focused-up… We gave [Day-Wilson] too much space when she was scoring, and when we closed that gap a little bit, we made her pass.”
Where the first quarter looked like the Blue Devils of winter 2021, the second quarter brought back the familiar Duke of February. The Blue Devils scored just nine points in that period, taking until 6:50 to score their second point. They nearly committed multiple shot-clock violations and had trouble defending Miami’s pick-and-pops and staying in front of its ball-handlers as they turned the corner off DHOs.
With Duke’s team passing and defensive close-outs failing to consistently hit in a timely fashion, it had reverted back to the style of play that had helped create its collapse in recent months.
The second half started no better than the first had ended, the Blue Devils missing their first four shots from the field while committing three turnovers in the first three-and-a-half minutes. Akinbode-James’ work on the offensive boards and Balogun’s overall defensive effort kept the contest from spiraling out of hand. But at the media timeout, Duke had seen a nine-point lead after the first quarter wither to just two.
ESPN’s Charlie Creme had Duke listed in the Next Four out of the NCAA tournament in his most recent bracketology. But a loss to a Miami team sitting 74th in Her Hoop Stats rating and projected out of the NCAA tournament is almost certainly enough to close the book on the Blue Devils.
“Obviously it's really tough to let our seniors go and stuff like that,” said Day-Wilson. “But the class that we have coming in—the freshmen that we got, probably some other people that we got—they're just gonna come in and fix back what we need, and what we lost, and the pieces that we need. And we're just gonna try to start back from scratch, and try to start back better for next season.”
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