DAVIDSON, N.C.—The Blue Devils traveled to Belk Arena Saturday to face off against Davidson in their first away game of the season. Coming off of a lopsided victory against Charleston Southern in which six Blue Devils scored in double digits and the team reached 100 points for the first time since 2016, Duke found itself in a defensive battle against the Wildcats.
Duke defeated Davidson 60-37. It took the Blue Devils time to get comfortable on the road, as a slew of first-half turnovers and sloppy play caused Duke to take a seven-point lead into halftime before it finally pulled away.
The Blue Devils opened their scoring with a well-run inbound play, in which Jordyn Oliver inbounded the ball to Kennedy Brown before Brown immediately tipped it back to Oliver for the wide-open layup. However, Duke struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first quarter, scoring only 10 points while shooting 5-for-14 from the field.
This discomfort on the offensive end was largely due to the pressure Davidson brought on defense, picking up the Blue Devils full-court and generating 14 first-half turnovers. The Blue Devils appeared sped up on offense, repeatedly making unforced errors and missing shots they usually make around the hoop.
“It was a hard game for us to get a rhythm offensively. I credit them, they did a good job of kind of disrupting our rhythm in that way. I thought the first half, we had 14 turnovers, and we just weren't handling what they were doing defensively,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the game. “I thought in the second half, we settled down [and were] a little bit more patient. So, this is our first real game of the year. And it's really hard to play on the road. Any win that you get, you take home with you and you're excited about.”
In the second half, senior Rosie Deegan opened the scoring for the Wildcats (1-1) with two triples that ignited the home crowd and brought Davidson within five. Only a few moments later, Brown found Celeste Taylor on a backdoor cut for an easy two.
That play marked the beginning of a 15-point scoring run to end the third quarter for the Blue Devils (3-0), who finally appeared to show some comfort in the halfcourt. Particularly, sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson helped slow down Duke’s offense to find easy looks, like a pinpoint pass that led to an and-one by Taylor.
“[Day-Wilson is] one of our most important players because she has the ability to break down defenses on her own. She's also grown a lot in terms of managing the game,” Lawson said. “Last year as a freshman point guard, it's a really hard job when you're a freshman, you have to run the team, you got to know the plays, you got to know where everybody's supposed to be. I think we're just seeing that maturity increase.”
As Duke settled in, both Taylor and Oliver found open spaces, scoring 14 and 10 points, respectively. Day-Wilson chipped in with 12 of her own, including a 3-pointer to stretch the Blue Devil lead to 22—after which she blew a kiss to the sidelines.
The Blue Devils struggled in the first half, as Davidson tied the game at 19 with 2:39 remaining in the second quarter. Davidson’s leading scorer in the first half, redshirt junior Elle Sutphin, provided a matchup issue for the Blue Devils as the 6-foot-3 forward repeatedly drew Duke forwards to the perimeter. All the Wildcats continually fired from deep, shooting 17 threes in the first half for 12 of their 19 points.
This trend lasted throughout the game, with Davidson shooting 26% on 31 3-point attempts. Despite this low percentage, Lawson said that Duke needs to work at decreasing the number of open looks opposing teams see on the perimeter.
“I wish we would have been able to guard the 3-point line better,” Lawson said. “I know they shot a poor percentage, but I think when we go back and look at the film, we probably gave up too many open looks that I'm sure they wish they had back. We just got to continue to prove in the halfcourt. Defensively, we're not where we want to be yet. That's okay, it's only the third game.”
Brown sealed the win for the Blue Devils with two putbacks late in the fourth, and while the final outcome was in question for much of the game, Duke ultimately won by a large margin.
While the Blue Devils turned their play around in the second half, they still gave the ball away 20 times when all was said and done. Moving forward in games against more talented teams, Duke will need to cut down on unforced errors if it hopes to come out ahead.
Duke will continue its nonconference schedule at home Thursday against Texas A&M at 7 p.m.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.